London-based Archer Street Prods., which is spearheaded by “Hilary and Jackie” helmer Anand Tucker, is in negotiations to write, direct and produce two projects for Universal Pictures.
The first, “Gambit,” is a remake of the 1966 U crime caper that starred Michael Caine and Shirley MacLaine. It would be followed by a pic about Cleopatra.
“Gambit” would team Archer Street with producer Mike Lobell (“Striptease”), who would serve as the lead producer on the project.
Both “Gambit” and the Cleopatra project would be created by the Archer Street principals of director Tucker, screenwriter Frank Cottrell Boyce (“Welcome to Sarajevo”) and producer Andrew Paterson (“Restoration”). The trio previously collaborated to create the 1998 October Films release “Hilary and Jackie.”
Lobell brought the attention of U brass to the 34-year-old “Gambit,” a twisty yarn in which a con man needs a partner to obtain some loot. The woman he enlists turns out to be everything he hoped for, but smarter and more attractive than he imagined.
Lobell was formerly on the U lot, but signed a deal that based him at the Castle Rock Entertainment offices in May.
The exact tack of the Cleopatra project, which Archer Street would take on after “Gambit,” is being kept under wraps. But Archer Street is understood to have a new perspective on the story of the Egyptian queen, whose charms seduced Roman leaders Julius Caesar and Marc Antony.
Although Cleopatra has been the subject of more than 40 features and television projects (including last year’s miniseries treatment by Hallmark Entertainment and ABC), no major studio has dared touch the legend since the debacle of the 1963 “Cleopatra” starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. That project ran wildly over budget and was a commercial flop that nearly took down studio 20th Century Fox along with it.
Archer Street, however, is familiar with the concept of a lush look on a tight budget. Paterson produced Miramax’s 1995 “Restoration,” which won Oscars for art direction and costume design despite the project’s limited pocketbook.
Archer Street is also developing another project, “The Railway Man,” through its first-look production pact with Intermedia and FilmFour.
Based on the book “The Railway Man: A True Story of War, Remembrance and Forgiveness,” the pic would tell the story of author Eric Lomax, a British army soldier captured by the Japanese. As a railroad buff, he took pleasure in his work as a POW on the Burma-Siam Railroad — an effort that became the subject of the film “Bridge on the River Kwai.” When his captors discovered his railway drawings, the Japanese tortured him as a suspected spy. Lomax discovered 50 years later that the interpreter during his torments was still alive, arranged a meeting, and forgave him.
In addition to “Hilary and Jackie,” the three Archer Street principals previously collaborated on the 1997 BBC “Saint-Ex.” That film was inspired by the life of Antoine de Saint-Exupery, the famed aviator and author of “The Little Prince.”
Cottrell Boyce also penned the upcoming Michael Winterbottom title “The Claim,” which is slated for release through United Artists later this year.
Cottrell Boyce is repped by Greg Hunt out of ICM’s London office, while Tucker and Peterson are repped by Nick Reed at ICM.