October scores Leigh pic

Gilbert & Sullivan bio to lens this summer

October Films Intl. has nabbed U.S., Canada, Australia and New Zealand rights to Mike Leigh’s untitled film about operetta kingpins Gilbert & Sullivan, which is budgeted in the $20 million range.

The rights deal is one of the biggest that the increasingly aggressive October has ever clinched.

The pic also is the first overall acquisition by the new Canal Plus/Pathe European distribution consortium, which has outlets in France (AMLF), Spain (Sogepaq), Germany (Tobis) and the U.K. (Pathe Distribution).

The film, which the auteur announced he first wanted to make several years ago, also had been considered by Miramax and MGM, among other U.S. companies.

Leigh’s picture, described as “neither a traditional biopic nor a musical,” will be set in the late 1880s against the backdrop of the original production of Gilbert & Sullivan’s “The Mikado.”

Leigh’s trademark style is to get the actors to rehearse intensively until they “become” their characters. A plotline and script eventually emerges from this process.

The film, currently in pre-production, is scheduled to begin shooting this summer.

Leigh regulars Jim Broadbent, Timothy Spall and Alison Steadman — who all starred in his 1991 comedy “Life is Sweet” — are attached, along with stage actor Allan Corduner, who is currently appearing in the Broadway musical “Titanic.”

Simon Channing-Williams is producing via his Thin Man Films outfit. The film is being partly funded by the U.K.’s National Lottery, with an award of $3.3 million.

The Gilbert & Sullivan project would be Leigh’s fifth collaboration with October, following the 1996 Palme d’Or-winner “Secrets and Lies” and the 1997 drama “Career Girls.”

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