EXCLUSIVE: Brit scribe Rebecca Frayn, whose latest feature is the Keira Knightley-starring Misbehaviour which hits UK cinemas next week, is set to direct Spies, based on her father’s 2002 Whitbread Prize-winning novel.
Michael Frayn is handling the adaptation of his own work. The book follows a man as he relives his childhood experiences of the Second World War, retracing his steps as he tries to uncover the secrets of his best friend’s mother who they believe to be a German spy. Belinda Allen is producing the feature through her banner Middlemarch Films with Misbehaviour and The Crown producers Left Bank Pictures also aboard.
Final touches are being made to the screenplay and the team will soon go out to attach a lead actress. Frayn’s writing credits include Luc Besson’s Aung San Suu Kyi biography The Lady, and she has previously helmed several TV projects including one-off drama Whose Baby? for ITV. Spies will be her feature debut.
Speaking to Deadline, Frayn said that she had been seeking the chance to helm her first feature for a while, and credited the #MeToo movement with opening up opportunities for women.
“I have always hoped to direct a feature. Until very recently only 7% of directors were women, it has been very hard to get into the room,” she said. “It’s thrilling and extraordinary how much that is changing post-#MeToo. A lot of my male director friends feel marginalized in a way that is quite shocking. I think it’s systematic change, rather than a vogue-ish thing that will be overturned.”
Misbehaviour, which tells the story of a group of women who plan to disrupt the 1970 Miss World competition to protest the event, will be released by Pathé March 13 in the UK. The movie was ten years in the making, tracing back to a BBC Radio 4 play that Frayn and producer Suzanne Mackie happened to concurrently listen to.
The long-gestation of the film was due to a lack of appetite for female-focused product, said Frayn, “I’ve always tried to tell stories of women with agency. Suzanne and I went to distributors and although they would pay lip service to gender issues, you could see there was a dead look behind their eyes and it wouldn’t fly.”
“It’s been a ten year labor of love to find people who would back us. After #MeToo, the sense that the film was marginal was completely overturned, it suddenly got momentum and became a zeitgeist project. Films from the women’s gaze are finding their market, we’ll see what happens with Misbehaviour,” she added.
Frayn said that collaborating with her author father had been a “new experience” but the pair had gotten into the swing of it after initially feeling self-conscious. Frayn’s family are all creators (her husband is Left Bank producer Andy Harries and the pair have two sons who are successful Youtubers), which has always created a “blur between work and private relationships,” she added.
The hope for Spies is to create a feature that has strong relevance to today. “It’s a very cinematic book and it has a great lead for a female protagonist. It has contemporary themes of anti-semitism, of the outsider within,” added Frayne.
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