The best films never made

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

David Lean's Nostromo? Michael Powell's The Tempest? As Brighton's Cine City film festival celebrates the best movies that never made it to the screen, Emma Love explores why some projects just don't get finished

Can you imagine if The Godfather had never been made? If Star Wars, E.T. and Pulp Fiction had never graced our cinema screens and become classic movies of their time? It's hard to think of cinema history without films like these and yet it could all have been so different. For every film that's made it to the silver screen over the years, there are plenty that could have been equally as good, equally as successful if only they'd got off the ground. It's not often that those "if-only" films are given any thought, especially at a film festival – until now. This Thursday, for the first time, the annual Cine City Brighton Film Festival is introducing a "never-mades" strand – a dummy film programme that reveals the British films that won't be playing at the cinema.

Take the film director Michael Powell. After he made The Red Shoes in 1948 with Emeric Pressburger, which producers hated and most critics panned, he began to have problems getting other films made. Both The Golden Years in 1952, a proposed autobiography of the composer Richard Strauss, and later, The Tempest in the 1970s, are just two films from Powell's rather long list of "never-mades" that have been included in the festival's fantasy programme. Powell became obsessed by The Tempest; there were several scripts written and it had a stellar cast lined up, including Mia Farrow, James Mason, Topol, the comedian Frankie Howerd and the cartoonist Gerald Scarfe, who was going to work on the sets. So what went wrong?

According to Greek-born, London-based Frixos Constantine, the managing director of Poseidon Films who was the producer on The Tempest, it was a clash with the powers-that-be that put the kybosh on the film. "We almost got it made but the Rank Organisation, who were a force in film-making, had some sort of problem with Powell," recalls Constantine. "They made sure it was never made. We had very good actors, a great script and it was a tragedy for the film industry that it didn't take place. I had no money to pay the actors or for post-production, it's as simple as that. I still think it was one of my biggest failures. A lot of rubbish films have been made and there are a lot of good films that were never made."

The "never-mades" programme, essentially a virtual festival of the imagination, is laid out in the same way as the programme for those films that are actually showing, complete with the year it should have been made, the director, cast details of actors who would have starred in it, and a synopsis of what the film would have been about. There are even pretend double bill pairings, such as Joe Orton's 1967 Up Against It – his unproduced screenplay about The Beatles which their management feared would destroy their image forever – with Nicholas Ray's 1966 adaptation of the novel Only Lovers Left Alive, set to star The Rolling Stones.

All the films on the bill were due to be made post-1945 and according to the festival co-director, Tim Brown, represent some of the most interesting decades in the film industry. "There's an element of the boom-and- bust cycle that we're used to with British cinema. In the 70s, there were dark days when a lot of American money pulled out," he explains. "The idea of the programme is to show that the films that don't get made reveal just as much about the state of the film industry as those that do. Some were too ambitious or there was an element of sheer folly. Sometimes acts of god got in the way."

In the case of Terry Gilliam's 2000 epic The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, it was illness, torrential rain and various other unavoidable disasters that caused filming in Madrid to be abandoned after four disastrous weeks. Johnny Depp, Vanessa Paradis, Miranda Richardson and Jonathan Pryce were all on the cast list. Among the problems which dogged the director were fighter jets flying overhead (they were filming near a military base) and a flash flood on the second day of the shoot which washed away vital equipment and changed the face of the landscape rendering the first day's work unusable. In addition, Jean Rochefort, who was cast as the lead after a two-year search, and who spent seven months learning English for the part, was diagnosed with a double-herniated disc, making his many horseback scenes impossible. The cursed shoot of the "film that didn't want to be made" was itself the subject of a critically acclaimed, award-winning documentary, Lost in La Mancha in 2002. Filming is now due to start again next spring with Gérard Depardieu, Michael Palin and Depp variously mooted for the cast.

High Rise, J G Ballard's novel, was nearly made into a film directed by Nicolas Roeg in the 1970s but it fell through due to lack of funding, while David Lean's Nostromo was stalled in 1986 after fears that the director wasn't up to making such an epic on location in South America. The project was moved to this side of the Atlantic but people began to lose confidence and it was permanently halted when Lean died in 1991.

For Stanley Kubrick – who has two "never-mades" on the programme, Napoleon from 1969 and Aryan Papers from the early 90s – there were rumours of casting issues, too much obsessing over the fine details, and with Aryan Papers, about the Holocaust, a feeling that the subject wouldn't appeal to audiences.

"There was a distinctly Napoleonic side to Kubrick; he definitely thought big," says the film historian Ian Christie, whose illustrated lecture on Britain's Lost Cinema will take place on 30 November as part of the "never-mades" programme. "Although he managed to get his way on lots of projects, his absolute obsession with Napoleon and casting issues meant that people didn't want to back him."

Kubrick eventually gave up on the Aryan Papers, finding the subject matter too depressing and declaring that it was not possible to make an accurate film about the Holocaust. The release of Steven Spielberg's Schindler's List in 1993 also contributed to its downfall. Earlier this year the Turner Prize-nominated artists Jane and Louise Wilson tracked down the Dutch actress Johanna ter Steege who was originally cast to star and made an elegaic new video artwork about her and the abandoned shoot.

With many of these uncompleted film projects, there is no simple, straightforward explanation as to why they haven't worked, when in theory most of them certainly should have done. Richard Attenborough has had the rights for These Are the Times: A Life of Thomas Paine for years, but has yet to get the film process started (Trevor Griffiths has since adapted his original screenplay and turned it into a play, which premiered at Shakespeare's Globe in September). Birdsong, based on Sebastian Faulks' hugely successful novel, has had several directors in the frame for over a decade, including Michael Mann, Paul Greengrass and Peter Weir; as has D M Thomas's controversial book The White Hotel, which has had more near misses than most since the first attempt at a film in 1982 (at least seven directors and various big Hollywood stars have been lined up). "No-one can understand why Birdsong hasn't been made, but many films that do get made are passed around a lot before they finally see the light of day," says Christie. "If a script has done the rounds with everyone having a go at it, films can begin to seem jinxed. Then there might be casting problems, a chunk of money falls out, the production falls apart and someone has to try and piece it back together until you end up feeling that its moment has passed. It's a strange thing."

The historian, who has decided to focus a significant section of his lecture on Michael Powell and his collaborative "never-mades" with Stravinsky, Dylan Thomas and the painter Graham Sutherland, will also be showing a section of The Tempest which was specially created for a tribute edition of The Late Show on Powell in 1992. Powell wrote the scene in a Shakespearean style as a new opening to the film. "Most film-makers spend time working on projects that don't get made and never get talked about. What I'm trying to do is bring those films alive," says Christie. So while we will never see Powell's full vision of "the one that got away", we can at least glimpse what he was trying to achieve.

Cine City Brighton Film Festival, Thursday until 6 Dec. The never-mades programme is available at the Duke of York's Picturehouse and online at

Arts and Entertainment
Clara takes the lead in 'Flatline' while the Doctor remains in the Tardis
tvReview: The 'Impossible Girl' earns some companion stripes... but she’s still annoying in 'Dr Who, Flatline'
Arts and Entertainment
Joy Division photographed around Waterloo Road, Stockport, near Strawberry Studios. The band are Bernard Sumner (guitar and keyboards), Stephen Morris (drums and percussion), Ian Curtis (vocals and occasional guitar), Peter Hook (bass guitar and backing vocals).
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Harris in 'The Goob' film photocall, at the Venice International Film Festival 2014
filmThe Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Streisand is his true inspiration
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor contestant Fleur East
tvReview: Some lacklustre performances - but the usual frontrunners continue to excel
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Tuttle's installation in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern
artAs two major London galleries put textiles in the spotlight, the poor relation of the creative world is getting recognition it deserves
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman
Arts and Entertainment
On top of the world: Actress Cate Blanchett and author Richard Flanagan
artsRichard Flanagan's Man Booker win has put paid to the myth that antipodean artists lack culture
Arts and Entertainment
The Everyman, revamped by Haworth Tompkins
architectureIt beats strong shortlist that included the Shard, the Library of Birmingham, and the London Aquatics Centre
Arts and Entertainment
Justice is served: Robert Downey Jr, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong and Robert Duvall in ‘The Judge’


Arts and Entertainment
Clive Owen (centre) in 'The Knick'


Arts and Entertainment
J.K. Simmons , left, and Miles Teller in a scene from


Arts and Entertainment
Team Tenacity pitch their fetching solar powered, mobile phone charging, heated, flashy jacket
tvReview: No one was safe as Lord Sugar shook things up
Owen said he finds films boring but Tom Hanks managed to hold his attention in Forrest Gump
Arts and Entertainment
Bono and Apple CEO Tim Cook announced U2's surprise new album at the iPhone 6 launch
Music Album is set to enter UK top 40 at lowest chart position in 30 years
Arts and Entertainment
The Michael McIntyre Chat Show airs its first episode on Monday 10 March 2014
Arts and Entertainment


These heroes in a half shell should have been left in hibernation
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Flanagan with his novel, The Narrow Road to the Deep North
books'The Narrow Road to the Deep North' sees the writer become the third Australian to win the accolade
Arts and Entertainment
New diva of drama: Kristin Scott Thomas as Electra
Arts and Entertainment
Arts and Entertainment
Daenerys Targaryen, played by Emilia Clarke, faces new problems

Sek, k'athjilari! (That’s “yes, definitely” to non-native speakers).

Arts and Entertainment
Polly Morgan

Arts and Entertainment
The kid: (from left) Oona, Geraldine, Charlie and Eugene Chaplin

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

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

    Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

    Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

    Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
    British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

    British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

    Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
    Let's talk about loss

    We need to talk about loss

    Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
    Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

    Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

    Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
    Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

    'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

    If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
    James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
    Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

    Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

    Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
    Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

    Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

    Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
    How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

    How to dress with authority

    Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
    New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

    New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

    'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
    Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

    Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

    The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
    Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

    Tim Minchin interview

    For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
    Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

    Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

    Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
    Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

    Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

    Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album