Karl Marx Drama Series in Works at James Schamus’ Symbolic Exchange

'Lady Macbeth's' Alice Birch (above) will write the show, which is co-produced with X-Filme, Haut et Court, Potboiler

Karl Marx Drama Series in Works
Courtesy of Georgina Ower

James Schamus’ Symbolic Exchange is joining forces with Germany’s X-Filme, France’s Haut et Court, and the U.K.’s Potboiler to produce an adaptation of Mary Gabriel’s book about Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels and their families, “Love and Capital,” as a limited TV series.

Playwright and screenwriter Alice Birch will write the show. She recently wrote the script for William Olroyd’s feature debut “Lady Macbeth,” which premiered to acclaim at this year’s Toronto Intl. Film Festival, where it was picked up by Roadside Attractions for a 2017 release in the U.S. Published in 2011, “Love and Capital” was a National Book Award finalist, a National Book Critics Circle finalist, and a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.

The story centers on the real lives of Jenny and Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels and the two sisters — Mary and Lizzie Burns — whom he loved and who loved him, and the Marx daughters — Jennychen, Laura, and Eleanor. They lived their lives at a “fever pitch, well-suited to the possibilities of the most dramatic television imaginable,” according to a statement.

“Illicit affairs, revolutionary plots, murder-suicide pacts, midnight escapes, aristocratic luxury and Dickensian poverty — the true story of the Marx dynasty outdoes even the most fanciful of today’s invented soap operas, all against the background of a world on fire and the formation of ideas that still transform today’s global society.”

“By allowing us to experience this extraordinary story through the eyes primarily of the women who lived it, Mary Gabriel allows us for the first time to feel the entire human drama that changed our world,” Schamus said.

“This is event television, and a perfect topic for large-scale European co-production with partners of tremendous distinction and taste. To have a bold visionary like Alice Birch leading the initial creative charge makes this all the more exciting.”

Birch was the co-winner of the 2014 George Devine Award for “Revolt. She said. Revolt Again,” winner of the Arts Foundation Award for Playwriting 2014, and was one of the BBC Writersroom 10 for 2014.

Her plays include “Ophelia’s Zimmer” for the Royal Court and Schaubüne, “We Want You to Watch” for the National Theatre, “Little on the Inside” for the Almeida, “So Much Once” for the Old Vic, and “Open Court Soap Opera” for the Royal Court.

Schamus, who set up New York City-based Symbolic Exchange in 2015, wrote the screenplay for “The Ice Storm,” which won best screenplay at the Cannes Film Festival, and produced the Oscar-nominated “Brokeback Mountain.” He also served as CEO of Focus Features. His feature directorial debut, an adaptation of Philip Roth’s “Indignation,” premiered at the Sundance Film Festival.

Symbolic Exchange has a first-look and financing deal with Meridian Entertainment, and recently announced its first two pictures to be financed under that deal, Kitty Green’s “Casting JonBenet,” and Jean-Stéphane Sauvaire’s “A Prayer Before Dawn,” starring Joe Cole, which will both premiere next year.