Newell, Leigh top Channing slate

Mike Newell, currently finishing the Julia Roberts vehicle “Mona Lisa Smile” for Revolution Studios, is heading back to Blighty — or more precisely, to Africa — to make his first British movie since “An Awfully Big Adventure” in 1995.

Newell is attached to direct “The Constant Gardener,” an adaptation of John Le Carre’s novel about a British diplomat in Kenya investigating the murder of his wife, a human rights campaigner. The $25 million project, scheduled to shoot early in 2004, is scripted by Jeffrey Caine (“GoldenEye”) and produced by Simon Channing-Williams. Newell will also take a producer credit.

For Channing-Williams, this movie will be the culmination of a frenetic 12 months of filmmaking, with three pics set to shoot in 2003 before he even gets to “The Constant Gardener.”

First comes the provisionally titled “Just One of Those Things” (previously “De-Lovely”), a musical biopic of Cole Porter that Irwin Winkler is directing for United Artists. Pic starts rolling May 5 at Elstree Studios, with leads Kevin Kline and Ashley Judd joined by a supporting cast of Brits including Jonathan Pryce and Keith Allen as Irving Berlin. Script is by Jay Cocks.

Channing-Williams, whose Pot Boiler Films (recently renamed from Cloud Nine to avoid a clash with a New Zealand TV outfit) has an overall deal with UA, was brought on board by the studio to work alongside U.S. producers Rob Cowan and Charles Winkler.

In the summer, Channing-Williams heads to Ireland to shoot “Man About Dog,” a $3 million black comedy about greyhound racing, directed by Paddy Breathnach. Helkon SK has U.K. rights, with coin also coming from the Irish Film Board and the Film Council. Script is by Pearse Elliott.

Then in September Mike Leigh begins shooting his latest opus, currently known, in his usual coy fashion, as “Untitled ’03.” Pic will be produced by Thin Man Films, Leigh’s ironically named partnership with Channing-Williams (neither of them being exactly lightweights).

The $9 million pic, which is about to start rehearsals, will star veteran character actress Imelda Staunton (in her first Leigh movie) and Phil Davis (his first since “High Hopes” in 1988). As usual at this stage of Leigh’s unique creative process, no one but the director (and perhaps not even he) has a clear idea what it will be about. Nonetheless, it is fully financed sans script by StudioCanal, the FilmCouncil’s Premiere Fund and tax fund Inside Track.

This is the second movie (the first was “All or Nothing”) in what was supposed to be a three-pic deal between Leigh and StudioCanal. But both sides have agreed to curtail the pact with “Untitled ’03” — partly because of Leigh’s desire to move onto a bigger budget after this one, beyond the scope of the StudioCanal agreement; and partly because of uncertainty over the French company’s own long-term destiny.

Meanwhile, Doug McGrath’s “Nicholas Nickleby,” which Channing-Williams produced last year for UA, is finally set for international release this summer via 20th Century Fox. Fox had first look at the pic under its foreign distribution deal with MGM, but passed on the rough cut. UA explored the possibility of a release via UIP or indies, but Fox has now agreed to come back in on the strength of the finished film.

HBO, BBC reprise “Storm”

Following the success of their Emmy and BAFTA-winning telepic “The Gathering Storm,” HBO and BBC Films are developing a sequel following Winston Churchill to the end of WW2. Hugh Whitemore, who scripted “The Gathering Storm,” has been commissioned to write the screenplay. According to BBC Films topper David Thompson, the project, if it comes to fruition, may need to be a theatrical feature, at least outside the U.S., to support the greater scale of the depicted events.

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