Maria Valverde (Exodus: Gods And Kings) has signed on to star in the coveted role of Nino in epic love story Ali & Nino. She will join the previously announced Adam Bakri (Omar) in director Asif Kapadia’s (Senna) big-screen adaptation of Kurban Said’s best-selling Azerbaijan-set novel about two star-crossed lovers.

The story begins in the melting pot of Baku at the turn of the 20th century. Ali is a Muslim, with his warrior ancestors’ passion for the desert; and Nino is a Christian Georgian girl with sophisticated European ways. The childhood sweethearts find their lives interrupted when WW1 breaks out and Baku’s oil becomes the focus of Russia’s vie for power. As the war plays out and control of the Caucuses changes hands, Ali and Nino find themselves swept up in Azerbaijan’s fight for independence.

Christopher Hampton (Dangerous Liaisons) has written the script, Kris Thykier (Trash) produces with Leyla Aliyeva exec producing.

Principal photography will commence in Azerbaijan and Turkey next month.

Kris Thykier has assembled a stellar production team for the prestige picture, with production designer Carlos Conti (The Motorcycle Diaries), DP Gökhan Tiryaki (Once Upon A Time In Anatolia), costume designer Michele Clapton (Game Of Thrones) and Editor Alex Berner (Cloud Atlas) all on-board.

“Maria is a brilliant actress and her interpretation of Nino’s character is moving, emotional and honest; it’s very clear that she will be the beating heart of our movie,” said director Asif Kapadia.