EXCLUSIVE: The biography The Secret Life of Dr. James Miranda Barry: Victorian England’s Most Eminent Surgeon from author Rachel Holmes has just been optioned by Maven Pictures and they have hired Nick Yarborough to adapt. Rachel Weisz, who previously co-starred in Maven’s The Whistleblower, is attached to star as the woman in the 1800s who disguised herself as a man to fulfill her dream. Maven co-founders Trudie Styler (Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels, American Honey) and Celine Rattray (The Kids Are All Right, American Honey) will produce with Weisz.
The story of James Miranda Barry is a fascinating one: Born Margaret Bulkley, she lived her entire life as a man so she could study and practice medicine. She became a prominent surgeon who spent her groundbreaking career championing the rights of the lower classes and pushing for medical reforms and better sanitary conditions. After becoming an army surgeon and beginning work as a medical assistant in Cape Town, Barry was promoted to the role of personal physician to Governor Lord Charles Somerset. This appointment led to Somerset supporting Barry’s often controversial work, and to a close and eventually scandalous relationship with Somerset, which was widely viewed to be homosexual in nature. While in Cape Town, Barry performed one of the first known successful caesarian sections, saving the lives of both mother and child. Barry’s true gender was not discovered until her death in 1865.
The story has been brought to the small screen in a BBC drama-documentary called A Skirt Through History years ago, but this will be the first time the story of a woman who did what she had to to fulfill her dream is being made into a feature film.
Jenny Halper (The Kids Are AllRight, American Honey), Ari Pinchot and Jonathan Rubenstein of Crystal City Entertainment (The Ides of March, Lee Daniels’ The Butler) will serve as executive producers.
Beyond this film, Maven has made a reputation for itself in choosing interesting film subjects that attract top talent and many that then go onto critical acclaim. Those have included the aforermentioned The Kids Are All Right, The Whistleblower (which also starred Vanessa Redgrave), Still Alice which earned its star Julianne Moore an Oscar last year and this year’s American Honey, which was the Cannes Film Festival Jury Prize winner. Directed by Andrea Arnold and starring Shia Labeouf and Sasha Lane, American Honey has won 4 BIFAS, and been nominated for 6 Spirit awards.
Also upcoming in 2017 is Novitiate, directed by Maggie Betts and starring Margaret Qualley and Melissa Leo. That film will premiere in competition at the Sundance Film Festival.
The company also is spot on when choosing writing talent. The screenwriter for The Secret Life of Dr. James Miranda Barry is Yarborough who is is also working on A Letter from Rosemary Kennedy for Emma Stone.
Upcoming in 2017, Maven will release Freak Show which is based on James St. James’ best-selling novel and marks the directorial debut for Styler. Freak Show stars Alex Lawther (The Imitation Game, Departure), Abigail Breslin (Little Miss Sunshine, Zombieland) and Better Midler.