EXCLUSIVE: Benedict Cumberbatch is set to play Cold War spy Greville Wynne in hot Cannes package Ironbark, I can reveal.

FilmNation will finance and handle international sales on the pic, which is based on the true story of the British businessman who helped the CIA penetrate the Soviet nuclear program during the Cold War. Wynne and his Russian source, Oleg Penkovsky (codenamed Ironbark), provided crucial intelligence that ended the Cuban Missile Crisis. UTA packaged, negotiated the deal with FilmNation and handles U.S.

On Chesil Beach helmer Dominic Cooke will direct and executive produce with Cumberbatch (the duo previously collaborated on BBC drama series The Hollow Crown). The project, which is reminiscent in tone to Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, is based on a spec script by Tom O’Connor (The Hitman’s Bodyguard) who will also exec produce.

42’s Ben Pugh and Rory Aitken (Sand Castle) will produce alongside Adam Ackland (Patrick Melrose), SunnyMarch and FilmNation. Also execing are Josh Varney (Netflix’s Watership Down) from 42 and Leah Clarke of SunnyMarch while Alison Cohen brokered the deal for FilmNation. The production is eyeing an early 2019 start of shoot with additional casting set to take place soon.

Wynne’s story is a remarkable one. He was an electrical engineer recruited to MI5 who became an intermediary for high-ranking Soviet spy Penkovsky who was engaged in selling arms and weapons secrets to British intelligence during the Cold War. The two men became pally but when their activities were revealed by a double agent working for the KGB Wynne was arrested and imprisoned in Russia. Penkovsky, who was dubbed by the West as ‘the spy who saved the world’ for providing key intelligence around the Cuban Missile Crisis, wasn’t so lucky: he faced a firing squad (although in his book The Man From Odessa Wynne claimed that Penkovsky committed suicide in prison).

Wynne was released in exchange for the spy Gordon Lonsdale in 1964. In what could have been a scene from a John Le Carré’s novel, the two men are said to have walked past each other in the No Man’s Land dividing East and West Berlin in the early hours of the morning of April 22. Wynne would go on to write a series of exposé novels about his experience before passing in 1990 aged 70.

FilmNation, whose buzzy Cannes slate also includes 355, The Nest and Dolor Y Gloria, previously handled sales on Oscar-winner The Imitation Game which also starred Cumberbatch, that time as another unsung hero, code-breaker Alan Turing. London and LA production and management firm 42’s growing slate includes upcoming Netflix series Watership Down and features In Darkness and In The Shadow Of The Moon.

Glen Basner, CEO of FilmNation Entertainment told us, “We are delighted to be
working with Benedict again and to have his abundant creativity on both sides of the
camera. Dominic is a master director and he and Benedict’s work together on The
Hollow Crown produced breathtaking results. We anticipate a very exciting second
collaboration on Ironbark.”

Adam Ackland, Managing Director at SunnyMarch added, “We’re delighted to be working with Dominic Cooke, Tom O’Connor FilmNation and 42, bringing this thrilling and timely true story to the screen.”

Cumberbatch is currently in production on Showtime mini Patrick Melrose and is coming off a string of smash superhero movies including Doctor Strange, Thor: Ragnarok and Avengers: Infinity War.