I can reveal that the film is officially greenlighted and will shoot in January 2020. The script by Richard Bean (One Man, Two Guvnors) and Clive Coleman is based on the real-life story of 60-year-old taxi driver Kempton Bunton who, in 1961, stole a Goya painting from the National Gallery in London.
Bunton sent a ransom note saying he would only return the picture on condition that the UK government agreed to provide free TV for the elderly. However, it turned out he was spinning a web of lies, with the full story not emerging for another 50 years. The incident was the first, and still only, theft in the National Gallery’s history.
Producers on the project are Nicky Bentham (Moon) for her UK banner Neon Films with Pathé, Ingenious Media and Screen Yorkshire.
Executive Producers are Cameron McCracken and Jenny Borgars for Pathé, Andrea Scarso for Ingenious Media, and Hugo Heppell for Screen Yorkshire.
Pathé will distribute the film in the UK, France and Switzerland and will handle sales for the rest of the world, commencing at AFM next week. Yesterday, the company also announced a new entry in the Asterix & Obelix franchise of successful French movies, which will also be on its AFM slate.
Director Michell is coming off the back of Blackbird, with Susan Sarandon, Sam Neill and Kate Winslet, which premiered at TIFF.
Nicky Bentham has been working on the project for four years since responding to a cold email from the grandson of Kempton Bunton.
“He contacted me directly saying he had a story, it was a one paragraph email. A lot of those things come through your inbox but this one caught my eye, so I started researching the details,” Bentham told us. “I thought, ‘surely that’s not true?’ But the more I looked the more I was amazed that it actually happened.”
The producer visited the family, discovering a wealth of source material including press clippings, court transcripts, family photos and original writings by Bunton, who turned out to be an amateur playwright.
Bentham believed the natural home for the project was Pathé, due to the company’s track record producing comparable projects (see Florence Foster Jenkins, Suffragette, The Queen). “Pathé was the first call I made. It’s a very British story in its sensibility, quirkiness and humor – I knew they’d be able to get to the best version of it.”
Broadbent was such a clear frontrunner for the lead role that Bentham says they didn’t even write a list, “If you look at the pictures [of Bunton] it’s hard to imagine anyone else.” Luckily he responded quickly and positively to the material, as did Mirren when sent the screenplay.
Bentham is also developing a feature project about Scottish virtuoso percussionist Evelyn Glennie, who has risen to the top of her field despite being profoundly deaf since the age of 12.