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D’Works in ‘Virgin’ territory

Intermedia financing adaptation of Campbell novel

A formidable quartet of Oscar nominees — Benicio Del Toro (“Traffic”), Juliette Binoche (“Chocolat”), Geoffrey Rush (“Quills”) and Chloe Sevigny (Oscar-nommed last year for “Boys Don’t Cry”) — are in final negotiations to star in an untitled romantic epic to be directed by Walter Salles (“Central Station”).

Intermedia, which is financing the adaptation of the Katie Campbell novel “The Assumption of the Virgin,” has just sold the film’s domestic distribution rights to DreamWorks.

Scripted by Anthony Minghella and Leigh Jackson, the drama is the fact-based story of the taboo romance between the painter Fra Lippi, to be played by Del Toro, and the nun who posed for him (Binoche). It takes place during the Italian Renaissance, in 15th-century Florence.

“Lippi is a hedonistic, extraordinarily physical guy who, even though he’s a monk, is a notorious womanizer who fell in love with a deeply religious nun,” said Sydney Pollack, who is exec producing the film with Minghella, his Mirage Enterprises partner.

The project was hatched by Go Films’ Carolyn Choa at the BBC, and Choa is producing with David Lascelles. Choa, Minghella’s wife, brought the project to Mirage, where Minghella rewrote Jackson’s initial draft before he and Choa got Salles aboard.

BBC will retain U.K. distribution rights, and Intermedia partners and exec producers Guy East, Nigel Sinclair and Moritz Borman are in discussions with Italian and French co-production partners. Binoche had long been interested in the project, but Del Toro, Rush and Sevigny recently sparked to it, and the film got on track when DreamWorks came aboard.

“This is the first of what we hope will be many more deals with DreamWorks,” said Intermedia prexy Jere Hausfater. “Given the cast, director, material and Mirage, it doesn’t get any better than the elements in this film.”

Mark Shivas and BBC’s David Thompson also will exec produce the film, which Pollack said will begin shooting in Florence in the fall, as long as the actors strike is either settled or averted.

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