Scribe to pen explorer yarn

EXCLUSIVE
Jeremy Brock, screenwriter of the regal drama “Mrs. Brown,” has been signed by director Scott Hicks to script a DreamWorks project about two 19th century British explorers.

The still-untitled pic is the true story of Sir Richard Burton and John Hanning Speke, who competed with each other to discover the source of the Nile in East Africa. During their travels, they were the first Europeans to explore Lake Tanganyika, between Zaire and Tanzania, in 1858.

The same story was filmed by Bob Rafelson as “Mountains of the Moon” for Carolco. Released in February 1990 by TriStar, the film did not do stellar business, grossing $1.3 million in its first month of release.

Hicks, who directed Geoffrey Rush to an Oscar in “Shine,” likes writers with strong track records. When he signed with DreamWorks in July to direct “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” — the story of a French magazine editor beset by a rare paralytic condition — he brought in Ron Bass, who was responsible for “My Best Friend’s Wedding” and “Waiting to Exhale” and won an Oscar for “Rain Man.” Bass is also writing the script for Hicks’ “Snow Falling on Cedars,” a Universal picture based on the novel by David Guterson.

Hicks’ office at the Kennedy-Marshall Co. would not confirm details of the Brock hire, but the writer is known to have been signed up in a whirlwind deal just before Christmas, after Hicks saw “Mrs. Brown.” Brock flew at 11 hours’ notice from London to Hicks’ home in Adelaide, Australia, and the deal was sealed within three days.

Brock was represented by Michael Peretzian at the William Morris Agency in Los Angeles and Rod Hall in London. Beth Swofford, Hicks’ agent at CAA, didn’t comment on the deal.

A DreamWorks rep said that until a name is chosen, the film’s working title is “The Sir Richard Burton Project.”

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