NAME: Romulus Films
DESCRIPTION: Production company that racked up Oscars with “The African Queen,” “Room at the Top” and “Oliver!” among others, before topper Sir John Woolf left the business in the mid-’70s.
LAST SEEN: Back in biz, with Woolf’s son Jonathan set to market the pic “Revelation.”
LONDON — When Michael Corleone complains in “Godfather III,” “they keep pulling me back in,” Jonathan Woolf can relate.
A few years ago, Woolf was a happy London investment banker. Today, he’s head of the reincarnation of famed production house Romulus Films, overseeing the final details on “Revelation,” an independently financed supernatural thriller starring Terence Stamp that he hopes to take to Cannes in a couple of months.
The film’s plot points involving ancient curses, genetics and lost secrets are particularly intriguing, given that Woolf’s own involvement in showbiz can be judged as a case of destiny fulfilled and genetics triumph.
Woolf is the grandson of C.M. Woolf, one of the founders of the U.K.’s Rank Organization and son of the late John Woolf, who founded Romulus Films in the late ’40s with his brother James.
“My father was able, several times, to capture the Holy Grail of film producers,” says Woolf. “He was out to provide entertainment that was high-class and well-produced, and he managed to make internationally accepted films.”
“Accepted” is an understatement when you tally up Romulus’ 13 Oscars and a list of titles that includes three of John Huston’s classics — “The African Queen,” “Moulin Rouge” and “Beat the Devil” — as well as Laurence Olivier’s “Richard III” and Carol Reed’s “Oliver!” Romulus also controlled remake rights on “I Am a Camera,” the source material for “Cabaret,” and for “Four Feathers,” which is again in production.
Sir John was also a founder of Anglia Television, the home of classic, classy programs such as Roald Dahl’s “Tales of the Unexpected” and Orson Welles’ “Great Mysteries.”
Still, Jonathan Woolf had neatly avoided the film business and successfully pursued a life in the City until the mid-’90s, when he licensed the Romulus library of about 50 titles to Carlton. His avoidance of the biz was made easier, he calculates, by his father’s disillusionment with it.
Woolf says that by the time his dad had made his last film, “The Odessa File,” in 1976, the famed producer felt “audiences had moved away from the sort of films he wanted to make.”
Sir John never encouraged Jonathan to join the family trade, a revelation that’s less surprising when Jonathan recounts the financial downs that accompanied the better-known artistic ups of his father’s career. Woolf uses terms like “lost in the mists of another company’s bankruptcy” to explain the firm’s loss of royalties on one major film and notes the clouding of rights on another after “the negative was stolen from the lab and pirated, and we never got it back.”
With “Revelation,” the Romulus story picks up where it left off 25 years ago, with another Woolf making films to suit his taste (though this time, with a website,
“My aim in life is not to be a film producer,” Woolf says. “I am making ‘Revelation’ because of the fascinating mix of elements and the talent involved.”
So Woolf manages the money, keeps an eye on what he estimates are the “over 100 computer shots” in the film and looks forward to Cannes, where he hopes to present “at least one reel of the film if not a screening of the completed picture.”
“For my father, the greatest part of the business was seeing the product of your labors succeed,” Woolf says. Now, Sir John’s son is hoping the magic of “Revelation” plants him firmly in his father’s footsteps.