Could a film of Deborah Moggach's 1999 best-seller Tulip Fever at last be just around the corner? Eagle-eyed fans of the author believe that they have spotted a clue, at advance screenings of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, the new film of another Moggach novel, starring Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Bill Nighy and Dev Patel, which is due to be released in the UK in February.
In the film, which is based on Moggach's novel These Foolish Things, the character Mrs Ainsley (Penelope Wilton) is seen reading a copy of Tulip Fever. Is this a sign, just like at the end of Notting Hill (1999), when Hugh Grant sits reading Captain Corelli's Mandolin – that book became the Notting Hill team's next movie in 2001?
Although she is an immensely successful novelist and screenwriter, Moggach would be forgiven for having reservations about adapting Tulip Fever for the screen – again. In 2007, she revealed at the Hay Festival what happened when Steven Spielberg optioned the film of the book.
First, the director summoned her to Hollywood, where he discussed the novel's "Danish" setting. (Tulip Fever is set in 17th-century Amsterdam, as any fool could guess.) Then "he said, 'I think it's a comedy about poverty', which it isn't but everyone just agreed". While working on the screenplay, Moggach was constantly badgered to "bring out the comedy" in the rather sad story; then she was replaced as screenwriter by Christopher Hampton (Atonement), who was in turn replaced by Tom Stoppard. Then, in 2004, the then Prime Minister Gordon Brown closed a tax loophole that had encouraged Hollywood filmmakers to work in Britain, and Spielberg's team pulled out, writing off £35m – and 12,000 tulip bulbs had to be given away.
The last anyone heard, the film was still in development by a San Francisco-based outfit, Ruby Films, using the Stoppard screenplay and under the directorship of Peter Chelsom (Shall We Dance?). There is no news about the film at the moment, but I'm told that "the producer Alison Owen is determined to make it happen one day."
Tulip Fever seems made for the screen, and if The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is the success that it should be, perhaps it will be revived. However, if the Fox Searchlight Pictures team has copied the end-of-Notting-Hill tease, let's hope that they will not also be imitating the values that went into the making of the film of Captain Corelli's Mandolin. When its author, Louis de Bernieres, was asked how he felt about the film of Corelli, his most famous novel, he replied: "It would be impossible to be happy about your own baby having its ears put on backwards." Poor Deborah Moggach has had enough bad luck with the filming of this book; please someone just turn it into a nice film.
Big news at Simon & Schuster, where the commissioning editor for non-fiction, Colin Midson, recently left to set up as a publicity book consultant. Midson is a popular figure; when he announced his new venture, Mike Jones, editorial director at S&S, admitted that the company was "sorry" to see him go.
But the publisher has just announced his replacement, and it's a good one. The person who has been promoted to Commissioning Editor to fill Midson's shoes is Rory Scarfe – a name that rings bells here. Rory and his brother Alex – sons of the cartoonist Gerald Scarfe – are the S&S employees behind the shock best-seller Will and Kate's Big Fat Gypsy Wedding: Photos from Our Big Day, Like, which was published last April and became an instant success. The idea came about in a S&S brainstorming meeting, we hear, and Messrs Scarfe made it work super fast in time for the royal wedding. With quick thinking like that, the publisher is on to a winner.