EXCLUSIVE: Universal Pictures International Productions is partnering with See-Saw Films on a biopic of Mary Magdalene. The untitled project is set to be an authentic and humanistic portrait of one of the most enigmatic and misunderstood spiritual figures in history.
A devoted follower of Jesus Christ, who is believed to have witnessed both his crucifixion and resurrection, Magdalene has been portrayed a number of times on screen. Barbara Hershey played her in Martin Scorsese’s The Last Temptation Of Christ, which infamously included an imagined scene of Mary Magdalene and Jesus making love and having a baby together (although the scene is revealed to be a dream sequence as Jesus, on the cross, briefly ponders a normal life as a mortal). A largely silent Monica Bellucci played her in Mel Gibson’s Passion Of The Christ, while Anne Bancroft portrayed her in the 1977 mega TV production Jesus Of Nazareth. Most recently, her character was at the heart of Dan Brown’s global novel phenom The Da Vinci Code as well as the Tom Hanks-starring adaptation.
At a certain point in the Middle Ages, Mary Magdalene developed a reputation as being a repentant prostitute, although none of the four Gospels, in which she is mentioned a dozen times (more than some of the apostles even), support that description.
Garth Davis will direct the new movie from a script by Helen Edmundson & Philippa Goslett. Production is set to begin this summer for an anticipated release in 2017. See-Saw’s Iain Canning and Emile Sherman, who have grown from strength to strength ever since they conquered the box office and awards season with The King’s Speech, will produce. Davis and See-Saw already have the feature Lion, starring Rooney Mara, Nicole Kidman and Dev Patel, coming down the pipeline. They also worked together on the TV series Top Of The Lake.
The film will be overseen at Universal by UPIP managing director of Peter Kujawski and recently appointed co-managing director Robert Walak, who negotiated the deal along with UPIP Business Affairs head Alexander Jooss. Walak joined Universal from the Weinstein Co last October.
“Mary Magdalene is a strong character, who was so unique in her time, and her story will give audiences a chance to experience the cultural turbulence, human passions, and devotional beliefs that set in motion so much of modern history,” Kujawski and Walak told Deadline. “We are thrilled to partner with Iain and Emile at See-Saw on this project, who have a track record for developing compelling material with a focus on quality. We’re certain that Garth’s artistic vision will deliver an incredibly powerful new perspective on one of the world’s most well-known origin stories.”
“We’re delighted to be beginning a new production relationship with Universal Pictures International Productions on Mary Magdalene,” added Sherman and Canning. “Peter Kujawski and Robert Walak were instantly taken with the material and director Garth Davis’ approach to the material. The story of Mary Magdalene’s life and legacy has not been fully explored on film and so we look forward to working with UPIP and bringing this exciting story to the screen.”
Universal will release the film in all international territories except Australia and New Zealand, where it will be handled by See Saw’s longtime partners Transmission Films. Film4 co-developed the film with See-Saw.
Glen Basner at FilmNation negotiated the deal on behalf of See-Saw alongside Craig Emanuel of Loeb and Loeb. Davis is repped by UTA. Edmunson is repped by The Agency Ltd and Goslett is repped by UTA and Casarotto Ramsey & Associates Ltd.
The project reps the latest high-profile Biblical project in development. Harry Potter producer David Heyman is working on Zealot: The Life And Times Of Jesus Of Nazareth, with James Schamus adapting Reza Aslan’s thought-provoking biography of Jesus Christ. Lionsgate is on-board that project.