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Friedrich the Great rules Germany again

Prussian king getting TV mini, bigscreen movie

BERLIN — The life and times of 18th-century Prussian King Friedrich the Great has suddenly become a hot topic for local producers.

TV production giant UFA has announced it’s producing a TV mini about the influential monarch and German icon for pubcaster ZDF — just two days after producer Regina Ziegler said she planned to bring the renaissance king’s story to the bigscreen.

Growing interest in the Prussian ruler comes as no surprise — the 300th anniversary of Friedrich’s birth is certain to generate plenty of celebration in 2012.

Ziegler is re-teaming with writer-director Jo Baier for a theatrical biopic on Friedrich, who became endearingly known here as “der alte Fritz” (the old Fritz). Ziegler and Baier just completed another historical biopic, “Henry of Navarre,” an adaptation of Heinrich Mann’s magnus opus about the 16th-century French king Henry IV.

” ‘Friedrich the Great’ is another hero’s story, a cinematic effort to a great German king,” Ziegler said. “On January 24, 2012, we’ll celebrate his 300th birthday, and maybe the premiere of a great film as well.”

UFA, meanwhile, has tapped Lars Kraume to helm and co-write the mini with Robert Wenrich and UFA producer Joerg Winger.

The story offers plenty of dramatic meat: Friedrich initially sought to escape his royal duties and his authoritarian father, Frederick William I, by fleeing to Britain with his close friend and alleged male lover Hans Hermann von Katte, a lieutenant of the Prussian army. The two were arrested and the young prince was forced to watch the execution of his beloved friend. He eventually embraced his royal destiny, ascended to the Prussian throne and mounted a military campaign of conquest that transformed Prussia from a European backwater into a major power.

A renaissance man in the truest sense, Friedrich, who counted the French philosopher Voltaire among his closest pals, reformed and modernized Prussia. The king not only supported religious freedom but also abolished medieval practices such as torture and corporal punishment.

Before helming the TV mini, Kraume will begin production next month on “Die kommenden Tage” (The Coming Days), starring Daniel Bruehl and Johanna Wokalek (“Pope Joan”), for UFA Cinema, the group’s theatrical division. Set in the near future, the socio-political drama examines a family dealing with disease, terrorism and a growing war for the world’s last remaining oil reserves.

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