Mendes beats Scorsese to Middlemarch movie

After 138 years, Eliot classic is finally brought to the big screen

It is a hefty tome of more than 800 pages, set in a fictitious town in the Midlands and written as a penetrating study of provincial life, religion and political reform.

However unlikely its credentials for a film adaptation, George Eliot's Middlemarch appears to be destined for Hollywood, more than a century after it was written.

And while Martin Scorsese has spoken before about how he would love to make a celluloid version of the novel, a crack team of period drama specialists appears to have beaten him to it.

The award-winning director Sam Mendes is developing the project, with the costume drama writer Andrew Davies to write the script.

Yesterday, Focus Features, the arthouse arm of the powerful Hollywood studio Universal, also came on board. Focus has made its name from the commercial and critical success of historical dramas including The Other Boleyn Girl, Pride and Prejudice and Gosford Park. The company is regarded as having a Midas touch for creating hits in the costume drama genre.

Eliot's 1871 classic has never been adapted for the big screen, perhaps due to the complexity of its storyline and enormous cast of characters. The project is likely to be an epic undertaking, with an immense budget.

The book, which is regarded as one of the finest in the English literary canon, comprises a series of interconnected stories and focuses on an idealistic young heroine, Dorothea Brooke. An actress is yet to be cast for the part.

Two years ago, Mendes expressed an ambition to direct the film, but his position is still to be confirmed.

Focus has signed a deal with Mendes's company, Neal Street Productions, to develop the story – about the changing fortunes of a provincial English community in the early 1830s – for an international audience.

Pippa Harris, who co-founded Neal Street Productions with Mendes and Caro Newling in 2003, said James Schamus, the head of Focus, had described Middlemarch as "one of his favourite novels".

"Period dramas are expensive to make and in these times when people are looking to budget, it's not the easiest of times," she said.

"Not every book set in the past suits being turned into a film, but I think Middlemarch lends itself well to adaptation. Focus Features have got a fantastic track record of doing classics and doing them extremely well."

Andrew Davies, who has won five Baftas for his TV adaptations of novels by Jane Austen, Charles Dickens and William Thackeray, has already adapted Middlemarch for a BBC TV mini-series. He has now finished writing the script for the film.

Michael Gubbins, a film consultant and former editor of Screen International magazine, said there was "a lot of interest in the air around costume dramas" following Bright Star, Jane Campion's period drama about the Romantic poet John Keats, which received almost unanimous praise at the Cannes Film Festival.

"It all depends on luck and timing, but with the combination of Sam Mendes, who has made period dramas before, Focus, which knows how to deal with them, and Davies', who knows how to write them, it could be a perfect one," he said.

Martin Scorsese expressed interest in an adaptation of Middlemarch in an interview with The Independent but said he had been somewhat deterred because it was "too long". He had read the novel while making The Departed.

Boyd Tonkin: A classic that has always merited a wider audience

When the author AS Byatt talks about English fiction on the Continent, she tries to alert her audience to the overlooked greatness of George Eliot. The novelist who subtitled her greatest work, Middlemarch, as a "study in provincial life", has since struggled against a provincial, insular, reputation.

Yet the taboo-busting author who began life in Warwickshire as Mary Ann Evans drew on a wave of European writers and thinkers as inspiration for her work.

Andrew Davies' BBC TV adaptation in 1994 won large audiences and awards but Middlemarch has never travelled as well as the near-contemporary works of Dickens. Eliot may have shunned intellectual provincialism – but she did dig deeper than any English novelist before her into the secret tumults and yearnings of everyday life.

Her reverence for the sacredness of ordinary acts and feelings enrich every chapter of Middlemarch, as the intertwined story of Dorothea Brooke, Dr Lydgate, the artist Will Ladislaw and the pitiable scholar Mr Casaubon slowly unfolds.

This mood scarcely makes for the narrative fireworks that adapters and producers often crave. For all that, Eliot's faith in the low-key virtues builds incrementally into one of the most moving conclusions to any literary classic, as she affirms that "the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs".

Arts and Entertainment
Russell Tovey, Myanna Buring and Julian Rhind Tutt star in Banished

TV reviewGrace Dent: Jimmy McGovern's new drama sheds light on sex slavery in the colonies

Arts and Entertainment
Australia's Eurovision contestant and former Australian Idol winner Guy Sebastian

Eurovision 2015Australian Idol winner unveiled as representative Down Under

Arts and Entertainment
Larry David and Rosie Perez in ‘Fish in the Dark’
theatreReview: Had Fish in the Dark been penned by a civilian it would have barely got a reading, let alone £10m advance sales
Arts and Entertainment
Victoria Wood, Kayvan Novak, Alexa Chung, Chris Moyles
tvReview: No soggy bottoms, but plenty of other baking disasters on The Great Comic Relief Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
80s trailblazer: comedian Tracey Ullman
tv
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Attenborough with the primates
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Former Communards frontman Jimmy Somerville
music
Arts and Entertainment
Secrets of JK Rowling's Harry Potter workings have been revealed in a new bibliography
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Fearne Cotton is leaving Radio 1 after a decade
radio The popular DJ is leaving for 'family and new adventures'
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Public Service Broadcasting are going it alone
music
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne as transgender artist Lili Elbe in The Danish Girl
filmFirst look at Oscar winner as transgender artist
Arts and Entertainment
Season three of 'House of Cards' will be returning later this month
TV reviewHouse of Cards returns to Netflix
Arts and Entertainment
Harrison Ford will play Rick Deckard once again for the Blade Runner sequel
film review
Arts and Entertainment
The modern Thunderbirds: L-R, Scott, Virgil, Alan, Gordon and John in front of their home, the exotic Tracy Island
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Natural beauty: Aidan Turner stars in the new series of Poldark
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift won Best International Solo Female (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Shining star: Maika Monroe, with Jake Weary, in ‘It Follows’
film review
Arts and Entertainment

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith arrives at the Brit Awards (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Boleyn's beheading in BBC Two's Wolf Hall

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Follow every rainbow: Julie Andrews in 'The Sound of Music'
film Elizabeth Von Trapp reveals why the musical is so timeless
Arts and Entertainment
Bytes, camera, action: Leehom Wang in ‘Blackhat’
film
Arts and Entertainment
The Libertines will headline this year's festival
music
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Dean Anderson in the original TV series, which ran for seven seasons from 1985-1992
tv
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

    Homeless Veterans campaign

    Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
    Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

    Lost without a trace

    But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
    Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

    Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

    Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
    International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

    Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

    Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
    Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

    Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

    Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
    Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

    Confessions of a planespotter

    With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
    Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

    Russia's gulag museum

    Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
    The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

    The big fresh food con

    Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
    Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

    Virginia Ironside was my landlady

    Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
    Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

    Paris Fashion Week 2015

    The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
    8 best workout DVDs

    8 best workout DVDs

    If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
    Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

    Paul Scholes column

    I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
    Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

    From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

    Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
    Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

    Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

    The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
    War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

    Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

    Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable