Seeking to diversify and bolster its scripted output, Banijay Rights has signed a first-look development deal with Ellie Wood (“Bleak House”), a veteran British producer who founded and runs the independent production company Clearwood Films.
Under the pact, Banjiay Rights and Wood will work together to develop and produce all of Clearwood Films’ TV series for the U.K. and international markets. Banijay Rights will also handle international sales on the shows.
Caroline Torrance, the head of scripted at Banijay Rights, said this “new partnership further bolsters Banijay’s commitment and expertise in scripted programming, and capitalizes on the continued growth we are witnessing in the drama market.”
The first drama to be co-developed by both companies is “Stonehouse,” a spy thriller series based on an idea by John Preston, the author of “A Very English Scandal.”
The series will revolve around the true story of John Stonehouse, the former Labour Party Cabinet minister who faked his own death in 1974, leaving a pile of clothes on a beach in Miami. It was presumed he had gone swimming and drowned, or possibly been killed by a shark. Stonehouse was in fact en route to Australia to set up a new life with his mistress and secretary, Sheila Buckley. The scandal precipitated a national political crisis.
Preston’s “A Very English Scandal” dealt with another real-life British political imbroglio, that of an alleged plot by closeted gay lawmaker Jeremy Thorpe to have his lover killed.
“I’ve always been fascinated by the Stonehouse story. It’s every bit as bizarre as the Jeremy Thorpe affair and similarly tells the tale of an extraordinary character whose misadventures threatened to bring down the government,” said Preston, who will co-write the drama, which is currently in development.
The deal with Wood underscores Banijay Rights’s ambition to strengthen its positioning within the competitive scripted landscape in key territories. Banijay Rights recently signed a first-look agreement with another British production company, Greenacre Films.
“Banijay Rights’ experience and global presence will be hugely beneficial in putting us and our forthcoming shows in front of the key international players,” said Wood, who has worked on several award-winning dramas such as “Bleak House,” “The Line of Beauty” and “Decline and Fall.”
Wood is also set to produce the feature film adaptation of Preston’s novel “The Dig,” about the true story of the discovery of England’s Sutton Hoo treasure of Anglo-Saxon artifacts, with Nicole Kidman and Ralph Fiennes attached to star. The movie will start shooting this summer.
Wood, who has forged relationships with strong writers during her tenure at the BBC, said her company is primarily interested in producing one-hour, high-end drama series, with a particular interest in literary adaptations.
Banijay Rights CEO Tim Mutimer said his company was interested in both original series and shows based on existing IPs and is always looking for opportunities abroad, particularly in German and English-speaking territories.
“Banijay’s success with landmark drama series ‘Versailles,’ coupled with Nordic dramas such as ‘Occupied’ from Yellowbird made us realise that there was a huge global market for quality drama and fuelled our ambition to grow our activity in the scripted space,” said Mutimer.
In the past couple of years, Banijay has increased its investment in the scripted space, notably with the expansion of Yellow Bird, the thriving Scandinavian company behind “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” and “Wallander” in the U.K. and U.S. Established in 16 territories, Banijay Rights has built a strong drama hub in the U.K. with Neon Ink, Fearless Minds, and Blacklight, and has ramped up its presence in France with Terence Films and in Italy with the launch of Banijay Studios Italy.
Banijay Rights’ current drama slate includes “Straightforward,” a Scandi-New Zealand crime drama; “Hidden”, a Scandi urban fantasy; and “Wisting,” a Norwegian detective thriller based on Jørn Lier Horst’s crime novels. Banijay Studios France is also co-producing with Studiocanal Original “Mouche,” the French adaptation of Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s hit comedy series “Fleabag.”