Tom Rothman‘s newly launched TriStar Productions is charging ahead with The Lady In The Van, adapted from playwright and writer Alan Bennett‘s memoir about the elderly vagrant who parked her van in his driveway one day and stayed there for the next 15 years. The project reunites Bennett with BAFTA- and Tony-winning director Nicholas Hytner, who helmed the critically acclaimed film adaptations of Bennett’s plays The Madness Of King George and The History Boys and directed the first staged adaptation of Lady In The Van in 1999. Downton Abbey‘s Maggie Smith originated the titular role in the critical and commercial West End hit and will also star in the film.
This is the third project to be greenlighted by the revamped TriStar under former Fox head Rothman, who worked with Hytner on The Crucible, The Madness Of King George, and The History Boys. His interest in the Lady adaptation was piqued while visiting Hytner for the 50th anniversary celebration of London’s National Theatre, which Hytner recently exited as Director. “I asked him what he was going to do for his first next act – he said he thinking of making this. I started pursuing it then,” Rothman told me. BBC is aboard with first TV rights.
Lady goes into production in October in London, and TriStar will release it worldwide in late 2015, looking to capture the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel demo. In the UK the property is iconic, as is two-time Oscar winner Smith who stars on ITV/PBS hit Downton Abbey and will be reprising the character of Miss Shepherd, one of her most beloved stage roles. Her involvement in the film version was “essential,” says Rothman. “She is the lady in the van. I honestly don’t think that Alan or Nick would have wanted to do it without her.” The Queen‘s Alex Jennings also is set to star as Bennett and his alter ego, AB. Damian Jones (Belle, The Iron Lady) and Kevin Loader (Venus, In The Loop) will produce, along with Hytner. Miles Ketley and Charles Moore will serve as executive producers.
“My collaboration with Alan Bennett has been at the center of my creative life, and this true story is perhaps his most compelling and remarkable,” said Hytner. “Maggie Smith and Alex Jennings are two of Britain’s greatest actors, and they – like Kevin Loader and Damian Jones – are old colleagues. And it gives me particular personal pleasure to be working again with Tom Rothman, my longest-standing friend in the American film industry.”
TriStar Productions launched last summer when Sony tapped Rothman to bring new product through the studio’s distribution pipeline. Its slate also includes Jonathan Demme’s Ricki And The Flash, written by Diablo Cody and starring Meryl Streep, and Robert Zemeckis’ untitled film based on Philippe Petit’s memoir To Reach The Clouds, starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ben Kingsley, Charlotte LeBon and James Badge Dale.