Eva Mendes, Annette Bening join cast

After more than a decade of trying, Diane English has a solid cast and an Aug. 6 start date for “The Women,” the remake of the 1939 classic that she adapted and will direct.

Meg Ryan, Annette Bening, Eva Mendes, Jada Pinkett Smith, Debra Messing and Candice Bergen have either signed or are near committing to star in a contemporized version of the George Cukor-directed film, which Picturehouse will distribute domestically next year.

The project’s less-than-$20 million budget has been financed by Inferno Entertainment, Picturehouse and soapmaker Dove, which will make “The Women” a major cog in a marketing campaign for its female-friendly brand. The financing was pieced together with an assist from the independent division of ICM, the agency that reps English.

Jagged Pictures partners Victoria Pearman and Mick Jagger will produce with English and Inferno’s Bill Johnson, who brokered deals in Germany, Italy, Spain and other territories during Cannes. Johnson’s Inferno partner, Jim Seibel, will exec produce.

While numerous remake attempts were made at MGM before the title sold with the MGM library to Ted Turner, the current version took root right after Turner bought New Line and set up “The Women” as a star/producing pairing of Julia Roberts and Ryan, with James L. Brooks planning to direct (Daily Variety, April 18, 1994).

English signed on to write the script shortly thereafter, at a time when she was the hottest writer on television thanks to “Murphy Brown.” English became attached as the project’s director in 2001 and is now in a position to reteam with that sitcom’s star, Bergen.

The bitchy tone of the Clare Boothe Luce play lent itself perfectly to a 1939 original film that starred Norma Shearer, Joan Crawford, Rosalind Russell and others. Even though the property has always been catnip to actresses, skeptics felt the film was locked in its original period and would be difficult to remake. English, who weathered several near starts and watched actresses come and go, simply would not give up.

Her script maintains the arch spirit of the original, and the all-female cast, but the gals aren’t as relentlessly catty this time around. Story follows a group of female friends when the one they envied most discovers her husband’s cheating on her.

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