Madden looks west

'Shakespeare' helmer lassos 'Agnes' oater

John Madden, director of Miramax Films’ Oscar-laden “Shakespeare in Love,” will tackle the Western genre with an adaptation of the Tom Eidson novel “St. Agnes’ Stand.”

Madden is attached to develop and possibly direct the pic, which Miramax will bankroll and distribute for producer Elizabeth Karlsen.

In “Agnes,” Nat Swanson, an injured outlaw heading for freedom in California, stumbles across the trapped survivors of an ambush — three nuns and seven orphaned children. Sister Agnes is convinced that Swanson has been sent by God to rescue them, and for five days, the group fights in the blazing heat and dust for survival.

Eidson’s novel was originally bought and put into development by Universal Pictures in 1993, titled “The Standoff.” Ron Underwood was attached to direct, and Larry McMurtry (“Lonesome Dove”) was set to write the screenplay. The novel wasn’t published until a year later.

Miramax picked up the project in turnaround in 1996 for U.K.-based Scala Prods. However, at present, Karlsen is the sole producer.

Madden and Karlsen are looking for a new screenwriter for the project and don’t intend to work from any existing screenplays. Execs Julie Goldstein and Jennifer Berman are overseeing the project for Miramax.

Madden, who has a three-pic deal at Miramax, is eyeing at least two other directing projects at the distrib. While “Agnes” is definitely being considered, it is some way off from going into production.

The producing credits of the London-based Karlsen include “The Neon Bible,” “The Hollow Reed” and last year’s “Little Voice,” which starred Brenda Blethyn, Michael Caine and Jane Horrocks, and was distribbed by Miramax.

Madden, who also directed “Mrs. Brown” for Miramax, has become a high-profile helmer in Hollywood since the success of “Shakespeare,” which grossed more than $280 million worldwide.

Madden is repped by the William Morris Agency.

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