EXCLUSIVE: Greenacre Films, the British drama production company behind Netflix’s Michaela Coel-fronted musical Been So Long, is bolstering its TV slate and has set a raft of new projects including the adaptation of Mumbai-set novels The Space Between Us and The Secrets Between Us.
The company, run by Amanda Jenks, exec producer of HBO and BBC’s Sienna Miller-fronted Tippi Hedren biopic The Girl, and Nadine Marsh-Edwards, who worked on John Hurt’s An Englishman In New York, spoke to Deadline for the first of a number of profiles of the leading UK-based drama firms that are working with one eye on the U.S. and the rest of the world.
They have just come off the back of Been So Long, which was the largest single acquisition of a British film by Netflix. The musical, which was written by Che Walker and directed by Tinge Krishnan, is a love story set in Camden Town starring Chewing Gum’s Coel, Arinzé Kene (The Pass), Joe Dempsie (Game Of Thrones) and George MacKay (Captain Fantastic). It was snapped up after the SVOD service saw footage in 2017 and launched at the end of last year.
The pair are now developing a new slate of around ten TV series, as well as a handful of films, to build on this. First up is an adaptation of two novels from Indian author Thrity Umrigar, The Space Between Us and its sequel The Secrets Between Us.
The stories are set in contemporary Mumbai and follow the life of Bhima as she navigates a world she was born into without privilege. She begins as the the servant of her wealthy employer Sera and the story is told between Bhima, who is supporting her orphaned granddaughter, and Sera, a Parsi widow, whose pregnant daughter and son-in-law share her opulent home.
The two women seemingly have a friendship that goes far deeper than that of employer and employee. But Sera’s privileged life is not as it appears; after enduring years of cruelty under her mother-in-law’s roof, she also faces physical and emotional abuse at the hands of her husband, pain that only Bhima can see and alleviate. However, after speaking truth about a heinous crime, Bhima is cruelly fired and takes work as a cleaner for a young artist Chitra and her girlfriend and grows in confidence before partnering with Parvati, an older woman to sell fruits and vegetables at the local market. As they work together, these two women grow closer, each confessing the truth about the wounds that haunt them and the ambitions that have eluded them.
Greenacre stumbled across the books after attending the Calabash Literary Festival in Jamaica, having made a number of documentaries with hip hop artist Akala. “Because we attend different things and are interested in different things, we went to Calabash and while we were there, we met the author of the books. That was one of the things that if we hadn’t done that we wouldn’t have known about that or be able to option the book before it came out. We’re now working hard on that,” said Marsh-Edwards.
Jenks added, “We think these two books combined will make a really great high-end international series. It’s about class, but it’s about a friendship between two women’s lives that are strangely similar even though they are very different.”
They are in talks with writers and are confident of attaching someone “soon”. Jenks added that they may take the project to Netflix or one of the other streaming services, which are increasingly looking to bolster their Indian offering. “It’s really important that while it reaches an international market, it is also servicing an Indian market so we can get that authenticity right. There’s something incredibly modern about India while also very old fashioned. It has these social mores and strict class systems that define it but [that doesn’t apply to] everyone and those two worlds sit side by side. It’s not about the Raj,” she said.
It is one of a number of diverse projects that the company hopes to get into production soon.
Greenacre is also working with Misan Sagay (right), the screenwriter behind Fox Searchlight’s Belle, ABC’s Halle Berry-fronted and Oprah Winfrey-produced Their Eyes Were Watching God and Showtime/Sky co-pro Guerilla, on Battersea Rise, on an aspirational period thriller set in the Victorian era about a black family that has money. The series is currently in development and Greenacre hopes that this will be its next project to receive a greenlight.
The company’s tagline is ‘authored voices and distinctive worlds’. Marsh-Edwards said, “Our slate is very diverse. We basically want to make programmes that represent the world we see when we get the bus or walk down the road. Our world view is quite eclectic. We’re trying to play our part when it comes to class, race and sex. It’s a really practical thing to do because this country is made up of lots of different types of people. Why miss out on those unique voices? That’s a waste of talent, we’re trying to include those talents going forward.”
It recently struck a first-look deal with Banijay International to aid its new slate. Jenks said, “It’s a really exciting time to be a British drama business and the deal with Banijay [helps] because they are a global company, that has opened up so many doors internationally, we want to reach the U.S. as well as countries like India, which are fantastic markets.”
It may also be time for an exciting project that it previously had in development: Arthur Conan-Doyle: Ghost Hunter. The period supernatural adventure series, based on the Sherlock Holmes creator, was written by Gavin Scott, who recently worked on War & Peace. “The time is going to come right for that one. It’s a great project. Maybe we should open the drawer and get that one back out. We always have one eye on the ones that got away because you never know,” said Jenks.
Greenacre is also working to put together a new film slate and the pair are particularly keen to put a new spin on genre films. Jenks said, “We’d really like to make a female genre film, a horror/thriller for the UK, something with a bit of adrenaline. We’re going to put a call out for female writers, we want to have a female gaze on this male genre.”