EXCLUSIVE: Saul Dibb is in talks to direct the BBC’s feature length adaptation of bestselling author Zadie Smith’s NW. Smith’s acclaimed portrait of multi-cultural London follows a group of friends who grew up together on an estate. Central to the story are Natalie and Leah, whose lives have taken them in different directions. Natalie’s wealth and ambition have set her apart from the friends and family she grew up with — and she finds herself asking not only who she really is, but where she belongs. In an area where wealth and poverty are only streets apart, life is fragile, as Natalie and Leah are about to find out.

Rachel Bennette (Ripper Street) has adapted the novel, which was a National Book Critics Circle Award finalist and also one of the New York Times 10 best books of the year when it was published in 2013. The New York Review of Books hailed it an urban epic. Dibb is an interesting choice to direct given all the talk of diversity in the industry of late and the story’s multi-cultural, femme-centric cast. He has made something of a name of late by deftly steering period pieces such as The Duchess, with Keira Knightley and Ralph Fiennes, and World War 2 drama Suite Francaise with Michelle Williams and Kristin Scott Thomas. Dibb is also attached to direct the Russell Crowe-starring historical epic In Sand And Blood, about the terrifying true story of Captain Riley and his crew of the American brig, The Commerce, which was wrecked on the desolate coast fringing the Western Sahara in 1815, who were then captured and forced to slavery.

Dibb, however, does have precedent with diverse stories. He made his feature directorial debut with the excellent urban drama Bullet Boy, starring former rapper Ashley Walters in a bravura turn as a young offender trying to turn his life around. That film deservedly won a Best Newcomer Award each for Dibb and Walters, respectively, at the Evening Standard British Film Awards and the British Independent Film Awards.

Mammoth Screen (Poldark), one of the UK’s leading indie scripted banners before it was acquired last year by ITV, is producing with Damien Timmer exec producing for Mammoth and Preethi Mavahalli and Lucy Richer for the BBC. NW will air on BBC Two in the autumn.

Dibb is repped by Casarotto, Ramsay and Associates and WME.