“Pride and Prejudice” is looking good to go in 2004 for Tim Bevan and Eric Fellner’s Working Title Films, now that the Universal-owned company has signed up rookie helmer Joe Wright to direct its version of Jane Austen’s classic 19th century romance. Wright previously directed two acclaimed BBC mini-series — the historical biog “Charles II” and contempo drama “Nature Boy.”

Novelist Deborah Moggach (“Tulip Fever”) wrote the first draft of the “Pride and Prejudice” script, and “Billy Elliot” scribe Lee Hall is now buffing it up. “We’re trying to do something that pleases the enthusiasts and the Austen fans, that’s a faithful adaptation but with a bit more muscle,” says one WT insider. Pic is not yet greenlit, but is expected to shoot this summer.

Working Title’s confirmed production slate for 2004 includes Sydney Pollack’s “The Interpreter,” currently shooting with Nicole Kidman and Sean Penn; and “Nanny McPhee,” set to start in April with Emma Thompson starring as a magical nanny, directed by Kirk Jones (“Waking Ned Devine”). Stephen Daldry’s “Everest,” Paul Greengrass’s “Birdsong” and Shekhar Kapur’s sequel to “Elizabeth” are all pencilled for 2005.

“Sender” returns from limbo

A decade since Neal Purvis and Rob Wade wrote the original screenplay “Return To Sender” for producer Stephen Woolley, the movie finally started shooting last week in Copenhagen, virtually out of the blue, with Danish director Bille August at the helm.

The script, a Death Row thriller about the relationship between a condemned man (Aidan Quinn) and his female lawyer (Connie Nielsen), spent several years at the back of a cupboard while Purvis and Wade went on to pen blockbusters such as “The World Is Not Enough,” “Die Another Day” and “Johnny English.”

Somewhere along the way, rights to “Return To Sender” reverted to the writers, and Danish producer Michael Lunkerskov got involved. August, whose last pic was the Swedish movie “A Song For Martin” three years ago, signed up after the financing collapsed for his Hollywood project “Without Apparent Motive.”

To complete the circle, Purvis and Wade invited Woolley back on board as the U.K. co-producer just before Christmas. After all those years in limbo, all the elements — financing, cast and crew — came together in a rush. “I’ve never been involved in something that just happened like this,” Woolley says.

U.K. pirates booming and busted

Among the 1.75 million pirate DVDs seized in 2003 by the U.K. authorities, around 80% came from camcorder recordings, according to the Federation Against Copyright Theft. Of the remaining 20%, some came from Oscar screeners, but FACT has yet to trace a single example pirated specifically from a BAFTA screener.

The company hardest hit by piracy was Buena Vista. Five of the six most seized titles — “Finding Nemo,” “Pirates of the Caribbean,” “Brother Bear,” “Calendar Girls” and “Kill Bill Vol. 1″ — were released by the Disney arm.

But how to quantify, or even identify the damage? Despite piracy, Buena Vista reported its biggest ever U.K gross of £218 million ($397 million), largely due to the outperformance of the very pics most pirated. There was a six month gap between the American and British openings of “Nemo,” a boon for the pirates, but the movie still grossed $68 million, the second-best Pixar result ever in Blighty.

One rival distrib estimates that the pic was still 5% down on where it would have been without piracy, but that’s unproveable. It’s exactly because the damage is so nebulous that the industry finds itself so riven over the merit of counter-measures such as the screener ban.

That figure of 1.75 million pirate DVDs seized is 405% more than 2002. The bad news is that this reflects a big growth in piracy. The good news is that FACT is convinced that it is intercepting a higher proportion of the illegal copies coming into the country, mostly from the Far East.

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