Rudin boards BBC’s ‘Boleyn’

Just two years after making an acclaimed telepic from the same source material, BBC Films is poised to set up a Hollywood movie version of Philippa Gregory‘s historical novel “The Other Boleyn Girl.”

Scott Rudin has come aboard alongside British producer Alison Owen, who has been developing the project with BBC Films, and a studio deal to bankroll the $25 million pic is understood to be imminent.

Peter Morgan wrote the bigscreen adaptation of Gregory’s book, which tells the story of two ferociously ambitious sisters, Mary and Anne Boleyn, who were rivals for the bed and heart of the 16th century English king Henry VIII.

The elder, Mary, bore two bastard children by Henry, but she found herself usurped by her younger sister, whom Henry married (divorcing his first wife and causing a church schism in the process) and beheaded three years later for adultery.

Owen and BBC Films topper David Thompson had been planning to package the script with a director and key cast before circulating it to financiers. But it leaked out a few weeks ago in Hollywood and sparked what Thompson calls an “unprecedented response” from the studios. The decision to team up with Rudin was based on the BBC’s previous positive experience with him on “Iris.”

“We thought he’d be a fantastic partner, because of his reputation for making quality commercial films, such as ‘The Hours,” that in other hands might be on the arthouse end of the spectrum,” Thompson says.

These are intriguing times for BBC Films. Word is that the pubcaster, under pressure from government to ramp up its support for British movies, is preparing a 50% increase in the annual BBC Films budget to £15 million ($27 million).

This is, of course, unrelated to the fact that James Purnell, the new minister for creative industries, is engaged to marry director Lucy Walker, whose debut movie “God Forgives” (inspired by her own Amish doc “The Devil’s Playground”) is in development at BBC Films.

 Headline feathers its Nesta

What do the following have in common? A mechanical mushroom harvester; the U.K.’s first contemporary circus; a megapowerful computer chip based on quantum physics; and the new film and TV production company Headline Pictures.

The answer is that they, along with hundreds of other speculative schemes, are all backed by Nesta — the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts, set up in 1998 with £200 million ($365 million).

Headline, launched by veteran producers Mark Shivas and Stuart Mackinnon with screenwriter Kevin Hood, has just been granted £150,000 ($275,000) in seed equity to support its “pioneering business model.”

Based in Newcastle and London, it plans to use TV drama as the financial and creative foundation to develop feature films, in a profitable and sustainable way. That sounds conventional enough, but Nesta is hoping that its investment in Headline, if successful, will encourage more cautious venture capitalists to back other production start-ups.

“Investors rarely commit to the corporate structure of a start-up production company, which means that many of them lurch from project to project,” says Nesta’s Ian Poitier.

Headline’s first project, which started life as an idea for a TV drama, has already morphed into a movie. “Alec and May,” written by Hood and to be directed by Peter Mullan, is a romance set in late 19th century Boston. It’s based on the true story of how Alexander Graham Bell, a 28-year-old Scottish expatriate, drew on his experience as a teacher of deaf children to invent the telephone, at the same time as he fell in love with a young pupil.

It’s coincidence, of course, but it’s hard to imagine a subject matter that fits more neatly with Nesta’s mandate to promote British innovation.

The script, developed with BBC Films and Scottish Screen, is attracting strong interest from U.S. distribs, with the latest draft going out this week for financing.

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