CANNES — Lynne Ramsay is on her way back from the wilderness.
Four years after she completed her last movie “Morvern Callar,” the 36-year-old Scot has struck a deal with BBC Films to adapt Lionel Shriver’s provocative American novel “We Need to Talk About Kevin.”
Ramsay has taken a long and winding road since she burst onto the scene as Blighty’s hottest young arthouse auteur with her debut “Ratcatcher” at Cannes in 1999.
Although her sophomore pic “Morvern Callar” wasn’t greeted with quite the same critical raptures, it won awards for its star Samantha Morton and was arguably a more authentic expression of Ramsay’s edgy, contemporary Scottish sensibility.
It certainly cemented her reputation as one of the U.K.’s most exciting new voices, and led to her signing up to adapt Alice Sebold’s then-unpublished novel “The Lovely Bones” for FilmFour.
But things started to go wrong when Sebold’s book became a surprise U.S. bestseller. What was supposed to be a quirky leftfield project suddenly turned into a potential studio blockbuster, and Ramsay found herself courted by the likes of Steven Spielberg.
Problem was that she had originally committed to the project on the strength of just the first half of the manuscript, in which a dead girl narrates the circumstances of her rape and murder. She never liked the more sentimental second half, in which the girl returns to earth as an angel, and wanted to junk it. But the novel’s success gave her no room for creative maneuver.
She spent an intense 18 months grappling with the screenplay, before FilmFour bowed to the inevitable and fired her from the project in favor of Peter Jackson.
It was a bitter setback from which the volatile Ramsay took a long time to recover. She even talked about going back to her original intended career as a photographer.
But her bruises have gradually healed and her appetite for film has returned. She has also been quietly writing a three-handed sexual thriller with the working title “Peter, Paul and Mary” for Mark Herbert’s Warp Films, with backing from Screen Yorkshire and the Glasgow Film Fund. Herbert hopes to start sending this script out to potential financiers within the couple of months.
It’s unclear whether this or the BBC project will be ready to shoot first.
“We Need To Talk About Kevin,” which won the Orange Prize for female fiction in 2005, was brought to Ramsay by her agent Jenne Casarotto. Although first published Stateside (Shriver is an American, and despite her nom de plume, a woman), its searingly black subject matter wasn’t embraced by U.S. readers. The novel only began to win acclaim when it hit the U.K.
Set in New York, it’s a high school massacre thriller with a twist. It’s the story of a smart, educated mother who does her best to raise the child she never wanted in the first place.
But her son turns out to be a naturally obnoxious boy who destroys her marriage and ends up killing several of his classmates with a crossbow.
Ramsay has teamed with Rob Festinger, the Oscar-nominated American screenwriter of “In The Bedroom,” to write the script, with the hope to be ready for production in 2007.
BBC Films topper David Thompson says that the project once again demonstrates the BBC’s willingness to support British filmmakers who want to tell stories beyond U.K. borders.