Czech pic project pits dueling Oscar winners

Call it the greatest modern Czech feature never made.

“I Served the King of England,” an adaptation of one of the most beloved classics of Bohemian literature, is again changing directorial hands.

Bohumil Hrabal’s ribald tale of life behind the scenes at a glamorous old-world Prague hotel was to have been adapted by Oscar-nominee Ondrej Hrebejk (“Divided We Fall”).

But four years after coming aboard, Hrebejk has stepped away from the project, leaving the field to one of two Oscar-winning Czech filmmakers, Jiri Menzel and Jan Sverak.

AQS, a buyer for TV Nova, holds rights to the novel and is negotiating to determine which helmer gets the nod, says AQS partner Richard Signeski.

The $3 million feature is considered a big-budget film for the region, and private broadcaster Nova has stepped up to provide the bulk of the financing.

Sverak, who directed the 1996 Oscar foreign-lingo winner “Kolya,” says he relishes the chance to direct the adaptation but would want to bring in his British producer, Eric Abraham, to match Nova’s funding.

Maintaining creative control would also be a top priority for Menzel, a close friend of the late Hrabel whose 1968 Oscar winner “Closely Watched Trains” was based on another of the writer’s novels.

As a sign of how seriously the Czechs take this project, Menzel generated headlines several years ago when he attacked a producer with a stick before a stunned audience at the Karlovy Vary fest because Menzel felt the producer had shut him out of a deal to shoot the pic.

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