LONDON — Director Roland Joffe, best known for “The Killing Fields” and “The Mission,” has teamed up with FremantleMedia Intl. to develop miniseries “Ugly,” an eight-part adaptation of “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.”
Joffe has moved the action of Victor Hugo’s novel into the late 17th and early 18th century. The story begins with the birth of a boy to an aristocratic family. The boy is deformed and his family abandons him by the roadside in a basket, where he is discovered by a troupe of travelling actors. They name him Ugly.
The story follows Ugly into adulthood, exploring the nature of beauty and ugliness, what it means to be human, and notions of morality.
Speaking exclusively to Variety, Joffe said: “Stories that concern inner and outer beauty are perennial concerns for people because they ask questions of what it is to be a human being. Are we judged by our outward appearance or our inner life? Ugly is in many senses a kind of wonderfully archetypal hero because he is everything one is used to pitying, and yet in actual fact he has an extraordinary inner life.”
Alongside the story of Ugly, Joffe has introduced a second story strand, that of John Law, a Scottish economist, who is put in charge of France’s finances by King Louis XV.
Joffe said that the introduction of Law’s story is one of the ways he is making the story relevant to today’s audiences.
“Hugo in his novel looked at the influence of the church on medieval culture and people’s lives. In modernizing the story and bringing it to a way of storytelling that will attract a modern audience I decided that I would look at the influence of money on our lives,” he said.
Law’s great innovation is the introduction of paper money, which in turn leads to speculation. Law policies cause a financial crisis, which ruins the country.
“I thought that was a wonderful reflection of the age that we’ve been living in,” Joffe told Variety. “And it reflects wonderfully the idea of beauty. It is very easy when one is awash with cash to imagine that one is beautiful, and beauty can be bought, and that beauty is how much you show off. Beauty is the clothes you wear and the carriage you ride in. It was so explored and prevalent in France at that time that I thought that it had a wonderful echo of the kind of lives we live now.
“Inside that maelstrom of financial and social madness beats one extraordinary heart, and it beats in the chest of an extraordinary person, who is called Ugly, because by our standards of beauty that’s what he is. The question is what is beauty and where do we find it?”
FremantleMedia Intl. will introduce the miniseries to buyers at next month’s TV market MipTV in Cannes. Joffe hopes to move into production next year.
Sarah Doole, director of global drama at FremantleMedia, said, “ ‘Ugly’ is truly captivating and exactly the type of project that we have been seeking in our efforts to grow our creation of high-end scripted dramas. We are looking forward to discussing the project with the broadcasters at MipTV.”
Joffe, who was Oscar nominated for both “The Killing Fields” and “The Mission,” is currently prepping for a miniseries about the Texas Rangers from Leslie Greif, the producer behind “Hatfields & McCoys.”