Odyssey closes ‘Ring’

Adam Dawtrey: London Eye

Richard Attenborough has got the greenlight for “Closing the Ring,” the 12th movie in his illustrious 34-year career as a helmer.

Ralph Kamp and Louise Goodsill‘s Odyssey Entertainment has boarded the $20 million project to handle worldwide sales, with co-finance coming from the Film Council’s Premiere Fund and Baker Street.

The tireless Attenborough, 80 in August, is taking a sabbatical from his role as chairman of the giant Dragon Studios project in Wales to shoot the movie in September.

Pic is a romantic drama set in Belfast and North Carolina over two time periods — 1943 and 1993. Shirley MacLaine, Dennis Hopper, Mena Suvari and Colin Hanks will star, with Brenda Blethyn, Peter O’Toole and Ryan Phillippe in talks to join them. Producer is Jo Gilbert.

Script by Peter Woodward was inspired by the fact that Belfast was the base for a U.S. bomber squadron in World War II. When a B-17 crashes near the city, the dying rear gunner asks a local to return his ring to his girlfriend back home. Half a century later, a young Belfast man finds the ring, learns its history and tracks down the old girlfriend, who turns out to have married the gunner’s best friend.

While the WWII events are classic Attenborough territory, the contemporary sections of the movie will mark a rare departure for a director best known for his epic dramas of 20th-century history, such as his Oscar-winning “Gandhi.”

“I’ve done so much period and historical stuff, it’s rather exciting to get closer to the present day,” Attenborough says. “Even at my age, I’ll be using new muscles.”

Young unmasks boy queen

Was Queen Elizabeth I really a man? That conspiracy theory has circulated since her reign in the 16th century, and now it’s the topic of a movie.

Robert Young (“Fierce Creatures”) has written and will direct “Elizabeth Rex” (aka “The Bisley Boy”), based on a novella by Bram Stoker. The $12.5 million historical thriller will star Emilia Fox, Michael Gambon, Bob Hoskins and Stephen Fry. It’s produced by Thomas Hedman and co-financed by IAC Films and the Film Council’s Premiere Fund. Shooting starts in August.

Pic is based on the hypothesis — for which there are tantalizing scraps of historical evidence — that the real Elizabeth died of the plague as a 10-year-old, and was secretly replaced by her illegitimate half-brother, without the knowledge of their father, Henry VIII.

As the boy grows into a teenage “princess” in a court deeply divided between Protestant and Catholic factions, the struggle to conceal his real gender brings him and his guardians into peril. Fox (“The Pianist”) plays the lady-in-waiting who guards his secret, which is the movie’s lead role. The boy Elizabeth will be played by an unknown, yet to be cast.

BBC quarantines Winterbottom

BBC Films likes to support risk-taking filmmakers, but only if they keep their distance and cover their mouths when they cough. Michael Winterbottom, currently in China shooting second-unit for his upcoming BBC-backed movie “Code 46,” has been told he’s banned from setting foot on BBC premises for 12 days after he returns.

This edict, which applies to all BBC staff (though Winterbottom is not one) traveling to SARS-affected areas, has been greeted with a mixture of outrage and hilarity at Winterbottom’s Revolution Films. It’s unclear whether BBC execs are forbidden to visit Winterbottom in his own offices during the quarantine period, or to meet with any colleagues he comes within sneezing distance of. But if you spot BBC Films topper David Thompson wandering around in a face mask, you’ll know why.

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