CANNES — Harvey Weinstein was a no-show at a panel discussion at TV market Mipcom in Cannes Tuesday that was devoted to epic drama series “War and Peace,” which The Weinstein Company is co-producing with the BBC and Lookout Point. But he still managed to dominate the discussion.
Weinstein had been in Cannes on Monday, when he attended a photo-call with one of the show’s stars, Lily James, and Faith Penhale, one of the exec producers and head of drama at BBC Wales. He also attended an event for program buyers on Monday hosted by BBC Worldwide, which is handling international rights. Weinstein left Cannes shortly after and flew to San Francisco, according to one insider.
Weinstein’s place at the panel session on Tuesday was taken by Negeen Yazdi, president of international production at TWC. Other panellists included Penhale, the show’s screenwriter, Andrew Davies, cast members Stephen Rea and Tuppence Middleton, Simon Vaughan, CEO of Lookout Point, and Ben Donald, executive producer, international drama, at BBC Worldwide.
Despite Harvey Weinstein’s absence, his involvement in the project was a central topic of the debate. Yazdi described “War and Peace” as a “passion project” for him, and added that he claims to have read Leo Tolstoy’s novel when he was 12 years old. “It was a book that he absolutely loved, and when we got wind of Faith and her team developing it we then decided that we should pursue them incessantly,” she said.
Penhale added that Weinstein had got in touch within 24 hours of the BBC announcing that it would do the show. “Harvey had tracked me down to my office in Cardiff and was ringing repeatedly on the hour, and we had a really great phone call within that 24 hours where he said ‘If you are doing ‘War and Peace’ I want to do it. This is my favorite book of all time.’ And it went from there. It was really born out of his passion for it,” she said.
Yazdi said: “I think overall, the project really matches the ambition and scale of material we want to be working on. And in terms of the relationship with the BBC we discovered very quickly that our tastes were aligned and our ambitions for the project were aligned, and actually that, funnily enough, we are not that different in the way that we work, and we are all truly committed to the show, and above all the show comes first. And like in any working family relationship there were disagreements and discussions but all in a very healthy way, and that ultimately made everything better.”
Penhale added: “It really helped that from the outset we had lots of conversations about what we both envisaged for the project, and how we saw it coming to life on screen, and because we were in agreement from that point on the journey became one that worked, and the partnership is one that has always felt very strong.”
Vaughan added to the portrait of a harmonious co-production partnership. He said: “The Weinstein-BBC marriage has been a surprisingly effective and powerful thing. Both in terms of attracting talent and cast, but also in terms of making a statement to the global industry: that this is a big deal and you’d better pay attention. I think that’s what it takes to get heard in a market like this with thousands of hours of TV being produced every year.”
In the U.S., “War and Peace” will be simulcast on Lifetime, A&E Network and History in January.