Lucy Kirkwood’s U.S./China Drama ‘Chimerica’ Set For C4 Adaptation

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UPDATED: C4 has confirmed a full series commission, updated with quotes and distribution details.

EXCLUSIVE: The next twelve months could be a defining year for the relationship between the U.S. and China as President Trump and President Xi circle each other on a range of issues. Perfect timing for Playground Entertainment’s high-end drama Chimerica, an adaptation of Lucy Kirkwood’s critically acclaimed play, which has been commissioned by UK broadcaster Channel 4.

The broadcaster is in the final stages of development with the series expected to shortly receive a four-part order. The provocative play, which opened at the Almeida Theatre and the Harold Pinter Theatre in London in 2013, examines the changing fortunes of the U.S. and China.

Chimerica starts in China’s Tiananmen Square in 1989 as young American photojournalist captures a piece of history as tanks roll through Beijing and soldiers hammer on his hotel door. Twenty years later, he is covering a presidential election, marred by debate over cheap labour and the outsourcing of American jobs to Chinese factories. He subsequently becomes obsessed with a cryptic message left in a Chinese newspaper and journeys to discover who the man was in the photo.

It was created and written by Kirkwood, who also penned plays including war drama Guns or Butter and sex trafficking drama It Felt Empty When The Heart Went At First But It Is Alright Now. Kirkwood’s television credits include writing on C4 teen drama Skins and Sky One firefighter drama The Smoke, which she created. She also recently directed her debut feature, pregnancy drama The Briny, with Film 4.

Kirkwood is to exec produce the four-hour series alongside Playground Entertainment founder Colin Callender, Head of Drama Sophie Gardiner and Adrian Sturges, who has previously produced series including supernatural thriller The Enfield Haunting. Lady Macbeth director William Oldroyd, who was nominated for a DGA Award for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in First-Time Feature and a BAFTA for Outstanding Debut by a British Director, will direct the series.

Benedict Wong, who has appeared in movies including Doctor Strange and The Martian as well as Netflix’s Marco Polo, appeared in the play as Chinese dissident Zhang Lin. He is understood to be in talks to recreate his performance with the producers looking to line-up an A-list name for the starring role.

Chimerica was commissioned by C4 Head of Drama Beth Willis and Head of International Drama Simon Maxwell. It will be distributed globally by All3Media International.

It will be the second project made by Playground for Channel 4 this year after the broadcaster revealed that it was developing The Undeclared War (w/t), a cyber warfare drama from Peter Kosminsky. Kosminsky’s last effort, The State, about Islamic terrorism, showed that the broadcaster has the appetite to explore controversial subjects, something that Chimerica is likely to encounter.

Channel 4 Director of Programmes Ian Katz called Kirkwood’s play “searingly relevant” and said that he is “thrilled” bring such a “fresh and exciting voice” to the channel.

Kirkwood said: “Since I wrote the original play in 2013, the questions it raises have only acquired greater scale and relevance for us all. It was thrilling for me to return to the story of two men, one American and one Chinese, trying to work out how to respond to the outrages of an increasingly outrageous world, and look through their eyes at our changing relationship with journalism, power, protest, and images themselves. I feel especially lucky to have William at the helm, and am very excited to have the chance to collaborate with him on this epic, international story.”

Exec Producer and Playground founder Colin Callender added: “We’re delighted to be producing this with Channel 4.  This is exactly the sort of contemporary thought provoking drama that embodies the channel’s DNA. Everyone at Playground is very appreciative of the support from Channel 4 and all3media in bringing this timely drama to the screen.”

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