Miramax eye on ‘Onegin’

LONDON — Looking to extend its Ralph Fiennes period franchise after “The English Patient,” Miramax Films is in advanced negotiations to take over the financing of the $14 million Fiennes vehicle “Onegin” from Rysher Entertainment.

Rysher announced this summer that it is withdrawing from the film business to concentrate on television, but the company had already made a cast-iron pay-or-play commitment to finance “Onegin.”

It can only escape this commitment by getting another company to take it over. Summit Entertainment, which lost out in the original bidding war for the project at Cannes, has already turned down a second chance to take it off Rysher’s hands.

Miramax co-chairman Harvey Weinstein is believed to be negotiating directly with Rysher CEO Tim Helfet for worldwide rights to the project.

“Onegin,” which is due to start shooting next February, will star Fiennes, who is also co-producing alongside Ileen Maisel. It will be directed by his sister Martha Fiennes. Liv Tyler and Jude Law have also been cast.

The pic is based on Alexander Pushkin’s 19th-century verse novel “Eugene Onegin,” about the life and loves of a diffident Russian aristocrat.

Summit sources say they liked the latest draft of the “Onegin” screenplay, but felt that Rysher’s involvement in the project was too messy and expensive to be worth untangling.

Miramax successfully rescued “The English Patient” when its original financing by Fox and J&M Entertainment collapsed, and renegotiated all the foreign sales deals that were already in place. It is unclear how many distribution deals Rysher has already made on “Onegin,” which was one of the hot projects at Cannes.

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