EXCLUSIVE: UK director James Strong has signed on to direct Middle Earth, an epic story about author J.R.R. Tolkien and the tumultuous events that inspired his iconic novels The Hobbit and The Lord Of The Rings.

Strong’s credits include hit TV series Broadchurch and Downton Abbey as well as 2011 soccer feature United. He’ll direct Middle Earth from a script by Black List scribe Angus Fletcher, who gathered materials on Tolkien through six years of archival research and personal interviews.

Former New Line Cinema honchos Bob Shaye and Michael Lynne will produce through their Unique Features banner with Rachael Horovitz. Shaye and Lynne notably greenlit Peter Jackson’s The Lord Of The Rings trilogy while at New Line, then considered one of the biggest financial risks in movie history, but subsequently went on to gross nearly $3B at the worldwide box office.

Protagonist Pictures is handling worldwide sales and is expected to launch the project to buyers at the Berlin Film Festival next year.

Story follows Tolkien’s early life and love affair with Edith Bratt, whom he later married. The couple lived happily in Oxford, surrounded by friends, but when war broke out in 1914 Tolkien embarked on four years of battle and hardship, an experience that influenced his Middle Earth stories.

Fletcher’s credits include an upcoming adaptation of of E.M. Forster’s The Longest Journey for Classic Film Productions and Sleeping Giant Films, Philip K. Dick’s The Variable Man for Electric Shepherd Productions, and Helen Of Sparta for Anonymous Content. Strong, meanwhile, is currently directing AMC/ITV miniseries Liar, starring Ioan Gruffudd and Joanne Froggatt. In addition to Broadchurch, he’s also directed BBC drama The Best Possible Taste, Hulu’s 11.22.63 for J.J. Abrams and Stephen King, and Doctor Who.

Shaye and Lynne formed Unique Features in 2008, after two decades of running New Line. Credits to date under the banner include When The Bough Breaks and upcoming Shaye-directed Ambition, with Katherine Huges and Giles Matthey. Horovitiz produced Moneyball and About Schmidt, which she made while working for Shaye and Lynne as an exec at New Line.

Strong is repped by CAA, Plattform and United Agents in the UK.