DNA makes ‘History’

LONDON — IT’S BEEN A QUIET TWO YEARS since Fox Searchlight sealed its U.K. production joint venture with Andrew Macdonald and Allon Reich at DNA Films.

But after making just one movie in that time — the Julian Fellowes directorial debut “Separate Lies” — DNA will finally spring into frenzied action this summer, with four high-profile films set to start in the next two months.

DNA has just added “The History Boys,” based on Nicholas Hytner’s acclaimed Royal National Theater production of Alan Bennett’s play, to a slate that also includes African drama “The Last King of Scotland,” the Scott Rudin-produced “Notes From a Scandal” and the latest Danny Boyle pic, “Sunshine.”

Macdonald won’t confirm it, but the company also is reportedly in talks with Spanish helmer Juan Carlos Fresnadillo to direct “28 Weeks Later,” the sequel to Boyle’s “28 Days Later.” That 2002 hit marked the first collaboration between DNA and Searchlight and provided the template for their long-term partnership.

The four pics set to shoot this summer, plus “28 Weeks Later” if it eventually happens, will finally use up the $25 million left over from DNA’s old lottery franchise. Under their five-year deal, Searchlight matched that investment with another $25 million, and took a 50% stake in DNA.

Rival producers have sniped at DNA’s cautious husbanding of its lottery money, both before and since the Fox deal. But knowing how few British films are truly profitable, Macdonald won’t be hurried in his quest to build a durable British production powerhouse.

“It took a long time to do the Fox deal, and then you spend a lot of time looking around at what there is, then you pick something and spend a decent time developing it,” he explains. “The luxury of having this money is that you don’t have to rush into production.”

But it also means DNA is well placed to pounce when a complete package such as “The History Boys” becomes available at short notice.

Macdonald, a sardonic and permanently rumpled Scot, made his name as Blighty’s savviest young producer with “Trainspotting,” but his ambitions always extended beyond simply making great movies. The equally casual Reich, a died-in-the-wool North London intellectual and obsessive Arsenal fan, was a creative exec at FilmFour and Miramax before becoming joining Macdonald as DNA geared up for the Fox deal.

Hytner will direct the movie, which rolls July 11. The entire stage cast, led by Richard Griffiths and Frances de la Tour, will transfer to the bigscreen before taking the multiaward-winning show on a global tour this fall, ending up on Broadway next April.

DNA is co-financing the film with BBC Films, having beaten off interest from Working Title and Pathe, among others. Producer is Kevin Loader.

“There are just very few projects out there with this kind of quality, which is why everyone ends up chasing them,” Macdonald says.

Set in a northern English high school in the 1980s, it’s the story of a bright, unruly group of boys preparing for their entrance exams to Oxford and Cambridge. They become the focus for a battle of educational philosophies between an inspirational veteran prof (Griffiths) and a thrusting young teacher with controversial ideas.

“The Last King of Scotland,” a fictionalized account of the relationship between former Ugandan dictator Idi Amin and a young British doctor, started shooting June 11, with Forrest Whittaker playing Amin and James McAvoy as the doctor.

Co-financed by DNA and FilmFour, it’s the dramatic debut of Oscar-winning doc director Kevin Macdonald (brother of the DNA topper).

“Notes on a Scandal,” starring Cate Blanchett and Judi Dench, directed by Richard Eyre from a script by Patrick Marber, is based on Zoe Heller’s novel about a teacher who has an affair with a pupil.

Rudin and fellow producer Robert Fox developed the project with Searchlight. Because it’s a British film, the studio routed it via DNA for financing. Shooting starts Aug. 13.

Boyle is in the midst of casting his sci-fi project “Sunshine,” with Michelle Yeoh, Cillian Murphy and Chris Evans in negotiations to head the crew of a spaceship transporting a nuclear bomb to reignite the dying sun. The original screenplay is by Alex Garland. Filming at London’s 3 Mills Studios is set for late August.

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