Charlie Chaplin’s rags-to-riches story will be told in a new feature documentary for Showtime in the U.S. The project, backed by the British Film Institute and Film4, comes from Peter Middleton and James Spinney, who were BAFTA-nominated for their innovative doc “Notes on Blindness.” The pair were given access to a personal archive of the silent-movie star that includes previously unknown material and also have newly unearthed audio recordings.
“Chaplin” will look at the star’s impoverished childhood in late-Victorian London, his journey to the bright lights of Hollywood at the dawn of cinema, and, ultimately, his self-imposed exile.
The filmmakers say they will reveal the real Chaplin, who defined early cinema and became, at the time, the most famous man in the world. There will be outtakes and footage from sources including the BFI National Archive and the Chaplin’s World museum, which is located in the The Manoir de Ban in Vevey, Switzerland, where he lived for 25 years. It will act as a shooting location for sequences set during the latter stages of his life.
“We feel incredibly lucky to have been welcomed by the Chaplin family into their archives,” Middleton and Spinney said. “To find new perspectives on the life and work of one of the icons of the 20th century, who has left an indelible mark on popular culture, is a huge and exciting challenge. Chaplin described his life as a ‘fairy tale,’ and its themes of inequality, power, celebrity and artistry couldn’t be more relevant today.”
Showtime has “Chaplin” for the U.S. and has the North American rights. There is no word on whether it will get a theatrical release in the U.S., but the premium cabler does get behind its big documentary projects, and the feature offers the combination of the subject matter, high-caliber financiers and producers, and BAFTA-nominated directors.
Altitude has acquired distribution rights to the film for the U.K. and Ireland. It also has international rights and will introduce the film to buyers at Cannes. Will Clarke, chairman and co-CEO of Altitude, said: “This will be Chaplin as never seen or heard before revealed through the breathtaking beauty and [innovative] techniques that Peter and James bring to their filmmaking.”
“Chaplin is the most iconic figure in film history and, as a result, is bathed in mythology,” added Vinnie Malhotra, SVP, documentary, unscripted and sports at Showtime. “With unprecedented historical resources at their disposal and a keen eye for complexity and nuance, Peter and James will bring us the most definitive and rewarding exploration of Chaplin’s remarkable life.”
“Chaplin” is a Passion Pictures, Archer’s Mark and Smaller Biggie production, in association with Fee Fie Foe. Ben Limberg of Smaller Biggie and John Battsek of Passion Pictures will produce alongside Mike Brett of Archer’s Mark.