EXCLUSIVE: It’s a book that has inspired other iconic works. Many lines in the Rolling Stones’ song Sympathy for the Devil are from its pages. Comparisons have been made between it and Salmon Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses, even by Rushdie himself. It’s been tapped for material by artist H.R. Giger, the band Pearl Jam, in movies such as My Dinner with Andre, and even in Star Trek. And now, this book about the devil visiting 1930s Moscow right after Christ’s crucifixion — considered to be one of the best novels of the 20th Century — has been optioned to be developed into a feature film.
Written between 1928 and 1940 by Soviet author Mikhail Bulgakov but not published until 1967, The Master and Margarita has been optioned by the producer of the Russian Academy Award-winning biopic Legend No. 17, Svetlana Migunova-Dali, and Grace Loh, former president of New Crime Prods.
The book was written during the darkest period of Joseph Stalin’s regime, but was not published until a censored edition started leaking to the West in the 1960s and then it became heralded. Stalin thought the book would cause too much trouble in the country so it was banned from publication.
Some of the lines from the book have become well-known aphorisms: “A fact is the most stubborn thing in the world,” “cowardice is the most terrible of vices,” “there is no greater misfortune in the world than the loss of reason,” “no one’s fate is of any interest to you except your own,” and “manuscripts don’t burn,” to name only a few that spill from its 380+ pages.
The novel opens with the devil’s arrival in Moscow disguised as a professor and then, along with his black cat, wreaks havoc on the societal elite. Meanwhile, the Master (an author of an unpublished novel about Jesus and Pontius Pilate who has been hounded by Soviet censors) languishes in despair in a psychiatric hospital, unable to share his story. His lover, Margarita, agrees to sell her soul to the devil in an effort to rescue the Master from his fate. The book weaves stories together from old Jerusalem and the crucifixion of Jesus on Bald Mountain with current day Moscow with the love between the the Master and Margarita being the thread that passes through time and space.
The Bulgakov Foundation, which holds the rights, has allowed the work to be adapted for film, TV and even animation, but most of those have been done for overseas audiences. The novel has been translated into more than 40 languages and is considered one of the greatest works of literature.
Migunova-Dali and Loh will produce, Woodstock Music Festival creator Michael Lang will executive produce with Nevin Shalit and Andrey Furmanchuk.
The deal was negotiated by attorney Linda Lichter for Migunova-Dali and Loh.