EXCLUSIVE: In a competitive situation, Colin Callender’s Wolf Hall and The White Queen outfit Playground Entertainment has won film and TV rights to best-selling debut novel The Mermaid And Mrs Hancock. 

Imogen Hermes Gowar’s lauded historical-fantasy, rich in sexual politics and power games, has long-been talked about as one of the hottest new UK fiction books of 2018 and was published earlier this year by Vintage who paid a six figure advance for it after a 10-publisher auction. The book was long-listed for The Women’s Prize for Fiction and the Desmond Elliott Prize. While Playground hasn’t yet committed to whether this will be film or TV, the latter seems most likely. Callender will produce for Playground.

Set in 1785 London, the novel tells the story of Jonah Hancock, a prosperous merchant and widower, whose Captain returns having sold Hancock’s ship and cargo in exchange for an extraordinary creature; a mermaid. This mermaid becomes the subject of great curiosity and forges an encounter between Hancock and the desirable courtesan, Angelica Neal. The book then goes on to chart their intertwined lives.

The deal was brokered by Luke Speed of Curtis Brown Group, on behalf of Karolina Sutton of Curtis Brown Group. Harper Collins will release later this year in the U.S.

Callender, executive producer and founder of Playground, tells us, “In the tradition of Wolf Hall and Howards End we at Playground are very excited to bring to the screen Imogen’s remarkable debut novel. We are honoured that she has entrusted us with her gloriously enthralling original story.”

Melissa Gallant, creative director at Playground UK, adds, “We instantly fell in love with Imogen’s extraordinary and spellbinding novel. It is such a vibrant and moving love story full of originality and purpose.”

2017 was a busy year for the New York and London-based TV, film and stage company with releases of Kenneth Lonnergan-adapted drama Howard’s End and The White Princess, both on Starz!, as well as BBC-Masterpiece drama Little Women. BBC-Amazon movie King Lear, starring Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson, is in post-production. In partnership with Sonia Friedman Productions, the Tony-winning outfit is opening a production of the hit West End play Harry Potter And The Cursed Child on Broadway this spring.

Hermes Gowar previously studied archaeology, anthropology and art history and won the Malcolm Bradbury Memorial Scholarship to study for an MA in Creative Writing at UK college UEA.