Net to produce 4-hour swashbuckling pic

NEW YORK — BBC America has engineered one of the biggest co-productions in its seven-year history, four-hour movie “Sharpe’s Challenge” starring Sean Bean as a swashbuckling 19th century British officer.

Multi-part project is an extension of the series of 14 telepics on England’s ITV, with Bean appearing as the character featured in a series of novels by Bernard Cornwell.

Expectation is that BBC America will buy reruns of the telepics from producers Picture Palace/Celtic Films Entertainment, but neither side addressed that issue in the announcement of the pic.

Although based on the Cornwell character, “Sharpe’s Challenge” is an original screenplay by Russell Lewis. Producers Malcolm Craddock and Muir Sutherland will lense the project on location in North India, where Sharpe will have to contend with a powerful maharajah; nothing less than the fate of the British empire hangs in the balance.

The dollar investment in “Challenge” is on a par with BBC America’s stake in the six-hour musical thriller “Viva Blackpool,” scheduled for October, and two original movies from the playwright Stephen Poliakoff: “Friends & Crocodiles” and “Gideon’s Daughter,” slated for 2006. Unlike “Challenge,” these three projects are all co-productions with parent BBC.

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