Benedict Cumberbatch’s production company SunnyMarch is being sued over the rights to a Roald Dahl script, Variety can reveal.
SunnyMarch, whose directors are Cumberbatch and his producing partner Adam Ackland, entered into a co-production agreement with Portobello Productions (“Moffie,” “Ida”) in November 2019 to make a film adaptation of Dahl’s novel “Danny the Champion of the World.”
Cumberbatch was also set to star in the film as Danny’s father William, subject to his availability and approval of the script.
After commissioning and paying “One Day” writer David Nicholls to pen a first draft, however, Portobello allege they heard nothing further from Cumberbatch or Ackland, despite both men taking on numerous other projects, which are listed in the court filings, including “Spider-Man: No Way Home” and “The Power of the Dog,” for which Cumberbatch could possibly win an Oscar next month.
According to the agreement, the two companies planned to hire a director to work with Nicholls to revise the script and, once approved, it would be sent out to film financiers and talent.
However, the lawsuit alleges: “Since the date of the Agreement, no material progress has been made in the development of the Film. The parties have not engaged a director and no revised first draft of the Screenplay has been produced.”
According to the co-production agreement, if SunnyMarch or Cumberbatch personally had not approved the revised script within 12 months of delivery or if the parties could not get it funded within three years, Portobello were entitled to terminate the contract and take back rights to Nicholls’ script.
The agreement could also be terminated if Cumberbatch and Ackland “ceased to have control” of SunnyMarch Limited or its holding company, SunnyMarch Holdings Limited, or “if either of their services were no longer exclusively available to either of those companies.” In Sept. 2021 Cumberbatch and Ackland announced they had sold a minority stake in SunnyMarch to production and financing house Anton, founded by Sébastien Raybaud.
Portobello sent SunnyMarch a notice in Dec. 2021 saying that it was terminating the agreement and taking back ownership of the Roald Dahl script; however, last month SunnyMarch’s lawyers responded denying that Portobello were entitled to terminate the agreement.
Portobello is now seeking a declaration from the court that the agreement has been terminated and SunnyMarch “has no continuing rights in relation to the Film.”
SunnyMarch are yet to file a defense.
It is unclear whether The Roald Dahl Story Company (TRDSC), which manages Dahl’s literary works, was involved in the production, although they are not named in the suit. TRDSC was acquired by Netflix in Sept. 2021 in what was thought to be a deal worth $700 million.
Last month, it was announced that Cumberbatch is set to star in another Dahl adaptation, “The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar,” directed by Wes Anderson. The film is a Netflix production and also stars Ralph Fiennes, Dev Patel and Ben Kingsley.
Netflix is also working with David Nicholls on a new adaptation of “One Day.”
Variety has reached out to reps for Portobello, SunnyMarch and Netflix.