In a pre-emptive situation, Benedict Cumberbatch’s SunnyMarch and its part-owner, Studiocanal, have acquired film rights to the upcoming novel by Matt Haig, How To Stop Time. Cumberbatch is attached to star and will exec produce through SunnyMarch with Jamie Byng of Canongate Books. Studiocanal, which took a minority stake in SunnyMarch last year, will fully finance and has distribution in the UK, France, Germany, Australia and New Zealand.

Set to be published by Canongate in July this year, How To Stop Time is Haig’s first novel for adults in four years. It tells the story of Tom Hazard (Cumberbatch), a man who may look like an ordinary 41-year-old but, owing to an extremely rare condition, has been alive for centuries. It’s billed as a love story that spans time and continents.

The busy Cumberbatch next reprises his Dr Stephen Strange role for Disney/Marvel’s Thor: Ragnarok, followed by Avengers: Infinity War which is currently in production. He’s also starring in The Weinstein Co’s The Current War. On the TV side, he will topline five-part limited series Melrose for Showtime and Sky Atlantic which he is also exec producing. He’s further due to star in and exec produce the adaptation of Ian McEwan’s award-winning 1987 novel The Child In Time for BBC One and Masterpiece.

Haig’s most recent children’s book, The Girl Who Saved Christmas, was published in late 2016 in over 20 countries and is the sequel to his hit A Boy Called Christmas. Studiocanal and Blueprint Pictures acquired screen rights to the series in 2015 and are in development on a feature adaptation.

Haig’s other books include Reasons To Stay Alive which was on the Sunday Times’ Top 10 bestseller list for 46 weeks, and prize-winner The Humans. He also contributed screenwriting on Heyday Films and Studiocanal’s 2014 smash Paddington.

Studiocanal UK CEO Danny Perkins says, “We are delighted to be continuing our successful relationship with Matt Haig as well as build upon our long-running and dynamic partnership with SunnyMarch, Benedict Cumberbatch and Adam Ackland. This compelling novel will make for a powerful film that falls in line with Studiocanal’s ongoing commitment to British talent, storytelling and production. We look forward to bringing it to audiences around the world.”

The How To Stop Time deal was negotiated between SunnyMarch’s Managing Director Ackland who will produce, and Nick Marston of Curtis Brown who brokered the deal on behalf of Haig and Conville and Walsh. Studiocanal will handle international sales. Cumberbatch is repped by Conway van Gelder Grant and UTA