LONDON — Dark times call for dark minds.
British writer David Peace, who struggled for years to get his novels published, is finding U.K. film execs clamoring to adapt his work.
What makes the turnaround all the more remarkable is the bleakness and ferocity of much of Peace’s writing.
Using real-life events as his inspiration, Peace has become an unlikely fixture on the U.K’s bestseller lists, with tales often set in the grimly remembered Northern city of his native Yorkshire.
Sony Pictures is releasing “The Damned United,” Peace’s uncompromising account of outspoken soccer manager Brian Clough’s disastrous 44-day reign at Leeds United in the 1970s.
The pic is the first local Brit film produced under the stewardship of Deb Schindler, Sony’s prexy of international motion picture production.
Brit pubcaster Channel 4 recently aired an epic three-part adaptation of Peace’s “Red Riding” series of books about the hunt for the Yorkshire Ripper serial killer in the 1970s and early 1980s.
The $10 million project, comprised of three feature-length parts, was produced by Michael Winterbottom and Andrew Eaton’s Revolution Films.
Revolution also has optioned the rights of Peace’s “GB84” novel about the miners’ strikes throughout the U.K. in the 1980s, which saw Conservative prime minister Margaret Thatcher go up against the country’s then-powerful manufacturing unions.
Peace is in discussions with a number of film companies for the rights to his “Tokyo Trilogy,” the second part of which is to be published later this year, set in a post-WWII Tokyo as a Japanese detective attempts to uncover a series of grisly murders.
And while the near simultaneous bows of “The Damned United” and “Red Riding” may be a coincidence, the fact auds and critics are connecting with Peace’s dystopian vision of the past during these current times of economic hardship are not.
“People have spoken about this notion of credit-crunch entertainment and looking for parallels between the past and present but I’ve always seen history as quite circular,” says Peace from Tokyo, where he has lived for the past 15 years. “When I went back to Yorkshire five years ago during the supposed boom era, I didn’t notice that much difference to the place I grew up in. A lot of people missed out on the good times.”
The 41-year-old Peace left Yorkshire while in his 20s to teach English in Istanbul. From there, he traveled to Tokyo, writing between teaching classes at a school on the outskirts of the city. Now a fluent Japanese speaker — his wife is Japanese and they have two children — Peace’s unrelenting style can prove a challenge to adapt.
“In the initial cut, we had a lot of dark scenes, but you have less space to explore the nuance and subtlety in a film than in a book, so we cut them, especially since we slipped into a recession while we were editing,” says Andy Harries, whose shingle Left Bank Pictures co-produced “The Damned United” along with Sony, BBC Films and Screen Yorkshire.
Harries, along with screenwriter Peter Morgan and director Tom Hooper, convinced Sony execs to put up $2.1 million (£1.5 million) of the $6.4 million (£4.5 million) budget by telling them the project would be a comedy. Sony co-topper Michael Lynton, an avid soccer fun who once played the Dutch youth team, along with Deb Schindler, agreed to put up the coin within days of hearing Morgan’s more upbeat vision for the project.
Not that all Peace adaptations are shying away from their dark source material.
“I’ve heard the theory that during a recession people want to watch upbeat entertainment, but I don’t think that’s necessarily true,” Eaton says. “People also want some reality and projects with a sense of how things are.”