War of words waged as Chereau-helmed pic joins fray

With two Alexander the Great projects on the way, make room for competing Napoleon pics as well.

Al Pacino will play Monsieur Bonaparte this fall in “The Monster of Longwood,” an adaptation of a Staton Rabin novel about the French dictator’s last days and his relationship with a young British girl who befriended him after he was exiled to the isle of St. Helena.

Patrice Chereau (“Queen Margot”) is on board to direct, and he is overseeing a polish of Michael Tolkin’s last draft with scribe-author Paul Auster.

Project already has some of its financing and is seeking secure a foreign sales company to mobilize the rest of the budget. Howard Rosenman is producing “The Monster of Longwood” with Fonda Snyder, Colleen Camp and Stephen Hamel.

And it all might sound very familiar.

Dueling generals

Story is essentially the same as that of “Napoleon and Betsy” (Daily Variety, March 18) a project that was just set up at Lions Gate as a star vehicle for Scarlett Johansson, with Rebecca B. Kennedy writing the script and Melanie Johansson, Alexandra Milchan and Gilles Arondeau producing.

There is already bad blood between the projects that goes well beyond the race to mount rival historical pics: Rosenman has retained litigator Martin Singer to halt the other project.

One of the issues: Rosenman claims Kennedy wrote the first draft of his “Monster of Longwood” project and said Scarlett Johansson has flirted with his pic since she did a reading with Pacino last fall. Furthermore, Rosenman said, Melanie Johansson, Scarlett’s mother and manager, was attached as associate producer to his pic and Arondeau was supposed to be its production designer.

“Their project is completely tainted by copyright infringement,” Rosenman charged. “Melanie has been exposed to every one of our drafts, as has the writer who wrote our first draft. Scarlett has also been exposed to every one of our drafts, and our lawyers think they are doing something outrageously and grossly malicious. Lions Gate was also exposed to our material, because at one point they were attached as our financiers.”

Melanie Johansson said Rosenman’s charges were without merit: “This comes out of jealousy. Our project is not based on any novel; it is based on a true story that is public domain. It is entirely original. We are not involved in the other project. I would say that Howard Rosenman is a psychotic person.”

Rosenman responded: “Neurotic, I’ll admit to, but I am not psychotic. She should take a brush up course on copyright infringement, another on ‘Ethics of Our Fathers.’ We had no idea until we read the story in Daily Variety that this other project existed. In fact, Patrice and Al thought until then that she might be in our movie. We think Scarlett is a great actress. Her mother, on the other hand…”

Rosenman maintained that “we had no idea until we read the story in Daily Variety that this other project existed. In fact, Patrice and Al thought until then that she might be in our movie.”

“The Monster of Longwood” has been under option for about nine years, set up first at Paul Allen’s Storyopolis, then later at TF1. But Rosenman said they still own the rights to the underlying novel.

Long-in-the-works book will finally be published this spring by Simon & Schuster. Kennedy’s draft has since been rewritten by Jean-Claude Carriere and then Tolkin, but Rosenman said that because she was first to adapt the book, Kennedy will most assuredly have screen credit. Pacino has pined to play Bonaparte in the pic for several years, and his rep confirmed he is committed to playing the role this fall.

Rosenman said “The Monster of Longwood” has upwards of $7 million in equity financing in place and vows to be fully financed by this fall, when shooting is scheduled to begin on the Isle of Man and Fiji.

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