EXCLUSIVE: UK production outfit Mad As Birds Films, whose movie Poms scored the biggest deal at the recent AFM, is putting together a feature about Flora Sandes, the only British woman to enlist as a soldier and fight on the frontline in the First World War.

Mad As Birds has optioned book A Fine Brother, Louise Miller’s story about Sandes, through publishers Alma Books, and has tapped writer Celyn Jones (The Vanishing) to pen the script. CAA Media Finance is representing the project.

Today, Sandes’ remarkable story is not as well known as it should be. She fought alongside the Serbian Army for the Allies and achieved a distinguished career in its ranks as an officer. Her journey from Victorian England to the ice-cold trenches of Serbia became the subject of media attention at the time and she was decorated with a number of medals.

Born in Yorkshire in 1876, Sandes was determined to contribute to the Allied cause when war broke out in 1914. She joined the St John Ambulance unit and with a group of 36 women set off for Serbia to try to aid the humanitarian crisis there. When she was told she could no longer work with the unit, Sandes joined the Serbian army as a private after impressing with her riding skills. She rose through the ranks to finally become Sergeant Major and was seriously wounded by a grenade in hand to hand combat. Her injuries put an end to her combat in the war but she remained near the frontline to run a hospital.

Sandes was close to fighting again in the second world war but the invasion of Serbia was over before she could could take up military duties. She was briefly interned by the Germans, before being released on parole. Her husband would die during the war and she moved back to England, where she died in 1956.

Celyn Jones told us, “’Why haven’t I heard of Flora and her story before?’ is what I asked when I discovered Louise Miller’s book. As a character, Flora is one of a kind and her true-life experience is humbling. She is funnier than most people and braver than even more. Flora lived life like a movie. I’m excited to be writing this screenplay and building the project with the talented Mad As Birds team.”

Mad As Birds production Poms was one of the hottest properties at AFM where it was snapped up for around $8M by STX. At the market, the rising UK firm also had first footage of their thriller Six Minutes To Midnight, starring Judi Dench, Eddie Izzard and Jim Broadbent. Next out for the company is psychological thriller The Vanishing, starring Gerard Butler and Peter Mullan, with release set for 2019. In pre-production is drama The Almond And The Seahorse, which will be directed by Guillaume Gallienne.