EXCLUSIVE: House Productions, the British producer behind Benedict Cumberbatch’s drama Brexit: The Uncivil War, has nabbed the screen rights to the remarkable true story of an Auschwitz hero.
The film and TV company, run by former Film4 head Tessa Ross and ex-Working Title TV chief Juliette Howell, has optioned former war reporter Jack Fairweather’s The Volunteer.
The book, which just scored the popular Costa Book of the Year prize, is a biography about Witold Pilecki. Pilecki was a covert operative who volunteered to be captured and taken to deadly new Nazi detention centre, Auschwitz, in order to infiltrate the camp, organise a resistance from within, gather evidence of the atrocities being committed against thousands of European Jews, and ultimately attack the Nazi forces from where they’d least expect. However, Pilecki’s incredible and heroic story would later be wiped from the annals of history by Poland’s communist government and the man himself branded a traitor and enemy of the state.
Fairweather’s account pieces together first-hand accounts from survivors, access to unpublished diaries and newly released archival documents.
House has secured a multi-territory deal for the film rights to The Volunteer, as part of its financing partnership with Access Entertainment, which will see Ross and Howell develop the project. The publishers are WH Allen/Penguin Random House UK and Custom House/Harper Collins in the U.S.
It is the latest project for House, which produced Brexit – The Uncivil War starring Cumberbatch that aired on Channel 4 in the UK and HBO in the U.S., and is gearing up for BBC Two love story Trigonometry, written by Duncan Macmillan and Effie Woods, which will premiere at the Berlinale.
Fairweather is a former war reporter in Iraq and Afghanistan and the author of A War of Choice and The Good War. He has served as the Daily Telegraph’s Baghdad bureau chief, and as a video journalist for the Washington Post in Afghanistan. His war coverage won a British Press Award and an Overseas Press Club award citation. He is represented by Larry Weissman at Larry Weissman Literary and Josie Freedman at ICM.
Fairweather said, “I’m delighted that Witold Pilecki’s inspirational story of defiance in the face of man’s greatest evil has found a filmmaker of Tessa’s power and vision. In her hands, this once unsung hero will reach the audience he deserves.”
Tessa Ross, Co-CEO of House Productions added, “Jack’s book is an astonishing account of a vital story that demands to be told. Witold Pilecki’s heroism was remarkable and it is a great honour to be entrusted with this book so we can share his story.”
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