Imelda Staunton, Freddie Highmore, Miranda Hart and Toby Jones have joined the voice cast of The Canterville Ghost which reunites Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry. Kim Burdon is directing the adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s story that’s penned by Giles New and Keiron Self. The animated film is produced by Robert Chandler and Gina Carter with Content kicking off sales in Cannes. Fry plays Sir Simon de Canterville who has been haunting his ancestral home in rural England for over 300 years, scaring off tenants with ease and aplomb — until the Otis family moves in from America. The Canterville Ghost has previously been made in several iterations from TV movies to features and radio plays with such talent as John Gielgud, Charles Laughton and David Niven. This is the first time it will be animated. Staunton, Highmore and Jones are represented by Artist Rights Group, Miranda Hart is with Troika.
BBC Films has added The Lady In The Van to its Cannes slate. Maggie Smith will star in the adaptation of Alan Bennett’s memoir to be directed by Nicholas Hytner. Alex Jennings (The Queen) is playing Bennett in the story that’s based on the playwright’s experiences with Miss Shepherd, a vagrant who parked her out old van in his driveway and stayed for 15 years. Kevin Loader, Damian Jones and Hytner will produce. BBC Films is also producing City Of Tiny Lights starring Riz Ahmed and Roshan Seth and directed by Pete Travis. Patrick Neate is adapting his own novel about a cynical London private eye drawn deep into the criminal underbelly while on a case. Read More »
Jumping on the popular Scandi crime wave, BBC Films and Shine Pictures have jointly acquired rights to Child 44 author Tom Rob Smith’s recently published The Farm. Shine’s head of film, Ollie Madden, will produce the feature adaptation with Christine Langan executive producing for BBC Films. The psychological thriller centers on Londoner Daniel, who believes his parents are living a peaceful life on a farm in rural Sweden. After the shocking revelation that his mother has escaped from a mental hospital, she pleads with him to allow her the chance to tell her story. Daniel must decide whether she is a victim of a terrible conspiracy, or, as his father fears, is suffering a psychotic episode. He soon becomes entwined in an urgent tale of secrets, lies, and a horrible crime that implicates his own father. The novel debuted last month to strong reviews in the UK and also launched as a bestseller in Australia, Germany and Israel. It has a further 13 major territories sold. Smith’s Child 44 series has sold over 4 million copies worldwide. The first installment was made into a feature starring Tom Hardy, Noomi Rapace and Vincent Cassell and directed by Daniel Espinosa. Summit/Lionsgate will release later this year. The author also created the five-part BBC miniseries, London Spy, a contemporary thriller that sees an innocent young man drawn into a dangerous world of espionage … Read More »
SC Films International’s ‘Skin Trade’ Sets Cast
SC Films International has lined up Dolph Lundgren, Tony Jaa, Ron Perlman, Peter Weller, Michael Jai White, Celina Jade and Cary Hiroyuki Tagawa for action thriller Skin Trade. Ekachai Uekrongtham directs the film, which has just started principal photography in Bangkok. From a screenplay by Gabriel Dowrick, Steven Elder and Lundgren, Skin Trade tells the story of a New York City detective who, after his family is killed by a Serbian crime boss, heads to Bangkok and teams up with a Thai detective to get revenge and bring down a worldwide human trafficking ring. Lundgren, Craig Baumgarten and SC Films’ Mike Selby are producers.
BBC Films Options Novel ‘That Part Was True’
BBC Films has optioned Deborah McKinlay’s novel That Part Was True. The story follows the relationships between a UK divorcée and a U.S. author through their shared love of food and cooking. The book is due to be published in the UK by Orion. There are no details on timing for a feature transfer, but BBC Films chief Christine Langan says, “That Part Was True is a stunning novel: Deborah is a wonderful storyteller whose characters leap off the page, their dilemmas subtly touching modern nerves.” BBC Films recent credits include Saving Mr Banks, Philomena, The Invisible Woman and Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa. It’s got Pascal Chaumeil’s … Read More »
My Old Lady has a new distributor, a new backer and a new cast member. NYC-based Cohen Media Group has picked up all U.S. and Canadian rights to the comedy-drama directed and adapted by Israel Horovitz from his play. CMG EVP Gary Rubin and Cinetic Media’s John Sloss and Steven Farneth negotiated the deal on behalf of the producers. Distributed internationally by Protagonist Pictures, the film now has the unspecified financial backing of BBC Films. Rachael Horovitz and Gary Foster are producing with Nitsa Benchetrit and David Barrot. Co-producing are David Atrakchi, Boris Mendza and Gael Cabouat for Fulldawa Films. Charles Cohen and Daniel Battsek will exec produce for CMG, while BBC Films’ Joe Oppenheimer and Christine Langan will exec produce for BBC Films. Rounding out the My Old Lady news, Kristin Scott Thomas has joined Maggie Smith, Kevin Kline, and Dominique Pinon in the movie. Kline plays a down-and-out New Yorker who travels to Paris to liquidate a huge apartment he’s inherited. But when he gets there, he learns he can’t take possession until the old woman who’s living in the apartment dies. Taking up the role that Jane Birkin was originally set in, Scott Thomas will play Chloe, daughter of Smith’s Mathilde character. My Old Lady starts shooting in Paris this month. Scott Thomas is repped by CAA and by Independent Talent Group in the UK.
BBC One controller Danny Cohen has been appointed director of BBC Television, rounding out the senior management team of new director general Tony Hall. Cohen will sit on the BBC’s executive and management boards and will oversee the BBC’s four main channels as well as the BBC iPlayer and online content for BBC Television. He also now oversees BBC Films as well as the broadcaster’s drama, entertainment, knowledge and comedy genres and BBC Productions, Europe’s largest TV production group.
Cohen was named controller in October 2010 and is responsible for such series commissions as Call The Midwife, Last Tango In Halifax, The Voice UK and Ripper Street. Upcoming series include the adaptation of J.K. Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy, Starz/BBC drama The White Queen, fantasy project Atlantis and BBC America co-production Strange And Norrell. Cohen starts his new job on May 7 at a salary of £327,800. Hall recently appointed the former editor of Rupert Murdoch’s The Times newspaper, James Harding, as head of news.
Calendar Girls producer Nick Barton is gearing up for a summer shoot on family film Swallows And Amazons. Downton Abbey alum Dan Stevens is in talks for the key role of James Turner, aka Captain Flint. Swallows And Amazons is the first book in the children’s series by Arthur Ransome. Set in England’s Lake District in the summer of 1929, the books center on the Walker kids and the Blackett kids whose respective sailboats are dubbed Swallow and Amazon. When the adventurous and imaginative children meet, they join forces against their common enemy – the Blacketts’ uncle James whom they call Captain Flint.
Casting is underway for the children who are aged from six to 13. The Guard brothers Charles and Thomas, who directed the DreamWorks/Paramount suspense pic The Uninvited in 2009, are helming. Andrea Gibb is scripting the co-production from Barton’s Harbour Pictures and BBC Films. The books were previously adapted for the screen in 1974. Read More »
Saoirse Ronan is returning to her period roots with the David Heyman-produced Testament Of Youth. The Atonement actress, who’s lately made a detour into action, has become attached to the adaptation of Vera Brittain’s World War I memoir. The tome, adapted by Calendar Girls’ Juliette Towhidi, traces Brittain’s experiences as a disillusioned nurse during the war and the beginning of her career as a journalist and pacifist. Heyday Films and BBC Films are producing.
Presenting its slate in Cannes today, BBC Films also announced it is reteaming with My Week With Marilyn director Simon Curtis for The Golden Lady. Playwright Alexi Kaye Campbell wrote the script. David Thompson of Origin Pictures is producing. At the center of the film is Maria Altmann, a refugee from Nazi Austria who waged a legal campaign with lawyer Randy Schoenberg to reclaim several world famous Klimt paintings that had been stolen by the Nazis. Among them was his most famous golden portrait of Maria’s aunt, Adele Bloch-Bauer.
Creative England, the British Film Institute, BBC Films and Skillset are partnering on the second go-round of iFeatures, a low-budget film initiative for indie filmmakers in the UK. The program provides development and production support for three features budgeted at £350,000 that will be shot in England. The last iFeatures round included just-completed romantic comedy 8 Minutes Idle, starring Ophelia Lovibond, Tom Hughes and Antonia Thomas; and the Helen McCrory-starrer Flying Blind, which is currently in post. ContentFilm is handling sales on both while the BBC will pre-buy free-TV rights to the next three films to go through the scheme. Submissions are open for iFeatures² through May 3. Here’s the release: Read More »
Here’s a first look at Helena Bonham Carter as Miss Havisham, the witchy central character in Great Expectations, Mike Newell’s adaptation of Charles Dickens’ novel. Miss Havisham is an iconic character over here in Britain: an embittered spinster who sits in her mouldering mansion still wearing the wedding dress she wore when she was jilted at the altar; she has trained her adopted daughter Estella to break men’s hearts just as her heart was broken. Bonham Carter co-stars opposite Ralph Fiennes as escaped convict Magwitch. Producer Stephen Woolley tells me the Oscar nominee is playing Miss Havisham at the same age she is in Dickens novel — previous incarnations by Charlotte Rampling, Anne Bancroft and, most memorably, Martita Hunt in David Lean’s version played her much older. New York-based Unison Films is searching for a U.S. deal for the film, which Lionsgate UK will release in fall 2012. Hanway Films, which is handling all other territories, will show footage in Berlin. Newell will finish shooting the BBC Films-backed project by Christmas. Robbie Coltrane, Sally Hawkins and David Walliams (Little Britain) co-star, with Jeremy Irvine (War Horse) as Pip, the young hero of the story.
It’s no surprise. Wright has been putting out feelers for new jobs outside the Beeb’s filmmaking arm for months. She’s known to have become increasingly constricted at BBC Films, where she’s been for the past 15 years. Wright tells me she’s got several job opportunities lined up, but she felt she had to step down and take stock before deciding what to do next. “I’m the type of person who really needs to step away before they find something new,” she tells me. Wright became managing director of BBC Films in 2009. Christine Langan was appointed last year to run the creative side of BBC Films, with Wright taking responsibility for the day-to-day operations and co-producing financing. At a time of deep BBC spending cuts, Wright’s job is not being filled.
EXCLUSIVE: Slingshot Productions and BBC Films are co-developing a teen thriller partly inspired by Strangers On a Train. The working title is Teens On a Train. Slingshot’s hoping to shoot in 2011. Joshua St Johnston, creator of BBC fashion drama Material Girl, is the writer. St Johnston co-founded Ray Winstone’s production company Size 9. The project takes Patricia Highsmith’s novel, filmed by Hitchcock, as its inception: two strangers meet on a train and agree to murder the person who’s making the other person’s life a misery. In Slingshot’s version boy meets girl, girl turns out to be raving psychopath… The idea developed out of a teen Hitchcock scriptwriting competition that Slingshot ran in 2007. But Hitchcock/Highsmith as only the point of embarkation. Before Sunrise is another influence, Slingshot CEO Arvind Ethan David tells me. Doubtless Slingshot watched last week’s ruling by a New York judge that 2007’s Disturbia was not a direct steal from Rear Window with interest. At the time of its release, many critics dismissed Disturbia as a direct by-the-numbers teen version of the Hitchcock classic. But New York district judge Laura Taylor Swan dismissed the lawsuit brought by the estate of Cornell Woolrich, writer of the original short story which Hitchcock based his 1954 movie on. Judge Taylor Swan ruled that “the main plots are similar only at a high, unprotectable level of generality”.
UPDATE: UK culture minister Jeremy Hunt and arts minister Ed Vaizey have rowed back transferring the £15 million ($19 million) lottery film cash to the British Film Institute. Nor are they going to ask BBC Films and Film4 to split the money between them. I’m told that BBC Films has reacted “with horror” at the prospect of controlling the lottery cash. The BBC’s film department may make the same kind of features as the UK Film Council, but getting hold of that money could see its own £12 million funding being cut.
The irony is that it was the Arts Council of England’s original bungling of the lottery film cash that partly led to the UKFC being established. In the late 90s, producers were crying out for proper industry executives to award production funding, not a committee of well-meaning amateurs. Now it looks like we’re going full circle. “Once it finds out what’s going on, the whole industry will start laughing and then start crying,” says my source.
Tim Bevan, co-chair of Working Title, and UKFC chief executive John Woodward met Vaizey and Hunt this afternoon at 2:30pm (6:30am PST).
Liam Neeson, meanwhile, has weighed in to the controversy, calling the government’s decision “deplorable”. Neeson told the BBC: “We need movies. It’s a powerful industry that provides a credible entertainment for millions of people and I think it is wrong, I just think it is wrong for the government [to do this]. I … Read More »
EXCLUSIVE: The UK government is considering handing over the £15 million of lottery film production cash, which the UK Film Council currently handles, to public broadcasters the BBC and Channel 4. Ed Vaizey, the government arts minister, has talked about splitting the UKFC’s £15 million of lottery funding only recently. He argues that both broadcasters both fund the same kind of films. One UKFC insider I spoke to today described this as an “appallingly dumb” idea. “It may have come up now they are desperately scrabbling around for something to do with film money,” this insider tells me.
Even if BBC Films and Film4 go with the plan – and both complain that they’ve long been starved of funds – what’s to stop Auntie BBC and Channel 4 from just cutting their annual budgets as a result? BBC Films currently receives £12 million a year, while Channel 4 has just had its budget increased to £10 million annually. Producers would also likely howl as it further reduces the number of gatekeepers from three to two.
Department for Culture, Media and Sport tells me nothing has been decided yet. A detailed implementation plan will be worked out over the summer. But DCMS is considering options to transfer these funds to other existing bodies. There’s been talk of the British Film Institute handling the lottery production cash through an arm’s length commercial body — much like the arrangement BBC has with BBC Worldwide. I’m … Read More »
EXCLUSIVE: The international sales arm of the London-based financier is handling worldwide rights apart from US, which it’s sharing with executive producer Anant Singh. The First Grader has been tipped for Venice, and has already been accepted for the London Film Festival in November. Naomie Harris (Pirates of the Caribbean) stars in this first feature from former BBC Films boss David M. Thompson. The director is Justin Chadwick (The Other Boleyn Girl). BBC Films and UK Film Council are also on board.
The film tells the true story of an 84-year-old village elder who used a Kenyan government initiative to introduce free primary school to get the education he always wanted. He took on the government when it tried to stop him attending lessons.
Penny Wolf, head of Goldcrest Films International, tells me: “I loved Ann Peacock’s script when I first read it. It’s such a heartbreaking story.”
Goldcrest hopes to start selling in earnest around the Toronto International Film Festival.