Mike Fleming

EXCLUSIVE: Dakota Fanning will star in the title role of Effie, the Emma Thompson-scripted period biopic about the unfortunate marriage between Euphemia Gray and the famed critic John Ruskin in 1850s London. Richard Laxton (An Englishman in New York) is directing. Though the teenager was gorgeous, Effie’s husband never consummated the marriage over five years because Ruskin was for some reason disgusted by her body. After suffering through a loveless marriage and browbeating by her in-laws, Effie fell in love with Ruskin’s protégé, painter John Everett Millais.

Greg Wise will play Ruskin, and Tom Sturridge will play Millais. Thompson plays Lady Eastlake, who takes Effie under her wing when it was clear the union was destroying the young woman. Julie Walters and Derek Jacobi play Ruskin’s parents, and Edward Fox is in talks to play Lady Eastlake’s husband, Sir Charles Eastlake. He was the main patron of the Royal Academy, which held sway over what constituted fine art. He was already fed up with Ruskin and his radical ideas before that love triangle rocked the art community. Production will begin Oct. 17 in Scotland, London and Venice. The film’s being produced by Don Rosenfeld with Andreas Roald. They raised the $10 million budget through private equity.

The foreplay on this movie lasted as long the marriage between Effie and Ruskin, but at least here, Effie has the satisfaction of a start date. Along the way, Carey Mulligan and Saoirse Ronan had previously been reported as circling the Effie role, but the movie’s momentum was interrupted when Gregory Murphy took the producers to court claiming copyright infringement regarding his play The Countess, which also probed the Ruskin marriage. All this works out well for Fanning, who is now 17.

“It’s Emma Thompson’s first original script after doing several fine adaptations, and it gets to the heart of Victorian England,” said Rosenfeld, the former head of Merchant Ivory Productions. Rosenfeld and Roald are also producers of the Terrence Malick-directed The Voyage of Time, for which Thompson has signed on to be one of the narrators. “The script for Effie was always brilliant, but sometimes these things take time.” Rosenfeld said. The timing allowed them to raise the funding without having to pre-sell foreign or domestic territories. That won’t come until the film’s premiere, which the filmmakers hope will come at the 2012 Venice Film Festival.

Fanning, who just wrapped the final two installments of Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn, is repped by One Talent Management and The Osbrink Agency.

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