EXCLUSIVE: Up for four Olivier Awards next month, including Best New Comedy, West End critical darling Nell Gwynn is headed to the big screen. In what I hear was a competitive situation, Tim Bevan and Eric Fellner’s Working Title has just closed a deal for feature adaptation rights to the Restoration-era rags-to-riches tale by playwright Jessica Swale.
Bevan and Fellner will produce with Swale penning the transfer for what I understand is being lined up as a comedy/romance in the vein of Shakespeare In Love. The play, based on the true story of the eponymous actress/royal mistress/folk heroine, has generated interest among filmmakers during its two nearly back-to-back runs in London. Working Title is expected to go out to directors soon.
Set in late 17th century England, when women were first allowed to act on stage, Nell Gwynn centers on the real-life heroine’s transformation from her roots in a Coal Yard Alley bawdyhouse, to in-theater orange-seller, and ultimately one of the most famous actresses of the Restoration era. Particularly known for her towering wit, she was also notoriously the long-term paramour of King Charles II by whom she had two sons. On his deathbed, the king is said to have commanded, “Let not poor Nelly starve.”
Nell Gwynn first debuted in a sold-out limited engagement at Shakespeare’s Globe last summer with Gugu Mbatha-Raw in the titular role. She received an Evening Standard Award nomination as Best Actress for her portrayal. A West End production was then mounted at the Apollo Theatre and is currently running with Gemma Arterton having stepped in for Mbatha-Raw who had scheduling conflicts.
Arterton snagged an Olivier nomination as Best Actress in the production which also has nods for Michele Dotrice as Best Supporting Actress and for Hugh Durrant’s costume design. The Olivier Awards will be handed out on April 3.