BBC Films has unveiled its latest slate of feature projects as the company celebrates its 25th anniversary. Amongst the highlights of a jam-packed lineup of projects is a new adaptation of Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield with Veep‘s Armando Iannucci and Simon Blackwell co-writing. Iannucci will direct. BBC Films chief Christine Langan suggests this won’t be your grandfather’s Dickens, telling Deadline that although the project is at an early stage, Iannucci’s “sensibility usually runs very clearly through all his work. This won’t be a strange departure.”
Among other projects, Ritesh Batra, who helmed the acclaimed 2013 Cannes entry The Lunchbox (which Sony Pictures Classics released Stateside), will take on an adaptation of Julian Barnes’ Man Booker Prize-winning novel The Sense Of An Ending about a man whose comfortable world is rocked to its foundations by the emergence of an explosive letter from his careless youth. It will mark the feature screenplay debut of Nick Payne whose Constellations recently ran on Broadway with Jake Gyllenhaal. David Thompson is producing for Origin Pictures. Langan tells us they are currently casting and the hope is to shoot this fall.
Rafe Spall (Prometheus) is confirmed to star in Swallows And Amazons, the long-in-the-works re-invention of Arthur Ransome’s classic tale to be directed by Philippa Lowthorpe (Jamaica Inn) from a script by Andrea Gibb (Miss Potter). Nick Barton is producing.
BBC Films also has the James Marsh-Colin Firth collaboration, as revealed exclusively by Deadline, about the doomed sailor Donald Crowhurst scripted by Scott Z Burns. Plans are quickly coming together on this project, says Langan.
Other titles announced include documentaries on Grace Jones and the Royal Ballet’s Sergei Polunin. Sophie Fiennes will direct Grace Jones – The Musical Of My Life and has been gathering footage for seven years on the journey through the private and public realms of the performer, which Langan says will “culminate in a live gig.” The BFI Film Fund and the Irish Film Board are also co-financing. Steve Cantor is to direct Tiger Son, with additional footage by Ross MacGibbon and David La Chapelle, about the Royal Ballet’s youngest ever star Polunin who joined at 13 and became a principal at 19, recently walking away.
BBC Films, particularly under the stewardship of Langan, who was appointed exec producer in 2006 before becoming creative director in 2009, has established itself as a near-indispensable part of the UK film industry over the last quarter of a century, providing independent producers with much-needed development financing as well as a valuable seal of approval to take to distributors and potential financiers. It has developed and produced over 250 films during the period with a further 15 new titles to be released this year. The milestone comes after BBC Films won the Outstanding British Contribution to Cinema at the BAFTAs in February.
Langan tells Deadline the company is “very excited to have this role in independent film and has every desire to stay right at the heart of it. What’s interesting is that independent film is precarious and you need those public funders there to help out in the earlist, most vulnerable stages. If you can weather that period, then get up and running, the sky’s the limit.”
British talent has been increasingly visible on the world stage, but Langan says, “We can’t be complacent… It’s not all about ‘heritage Britain’… We have to work at striking a balance between Hollywood and Britain.”
BBC Films also announced it would be investing in two new talent nurturing projects: Greenlight with the National Film and Television School (NFTS) and Screenplay First with BBC Writersroom. Greenlight is a joint venture with the NFTS to fund one short film a year for three years directed and crewed by NFTS recent graduates. Screenplay First is a screenwriting award to be curated by BBC Writersroom in collaboration with BBC Films. The award will be open to writers with previous credits in theater, TV or radio but who have yet to have a feature film commissioned. In addition to a prize of £10,000, the winner will receive assistance with development from BBC Films.
Other BBC Films’ titles in development or pre-production include Stephen Frears’ Florence Foster Jenkins, starring Meryl Streep and Hugh Grant; Lone Scherfig’s Their Finest Hour And A Half; Pete Travis’ City Of Tiny Lights; and Ricky Gervais revisiting his David Brent character from The Office with Life On The Road, which picks up Brent as a traveling salesman in a belated bid for rock stardom. Gervais writes and directs and will produce alongside Charlie Hanson.
Upcoming releases in which BBC Films has had a hand include Simon Curtis’ Woman In Gold, Alan Rickman’s A Little Chaos and Thomas Vinterberg’s Far From The Madding Crowd.