Daniel Radcliffe to play Sebastian Coe in film about athletics rivalry with Steve Ovett

The star reunites with Woman in Black director James Watkins for film that focuses on the lead-up to 1980 Olympic Games

Arts Correspondent

Daniel Radcliffe is to trade in his magic wand for a set of running spikes to play British Olympic icon Sebastian Coe in a film chronicling the athlete’s intense rivalry with Steve Ovett on and off the track.

The creative team behind the film, which is called Gold, revealed yesterday that 24-year-old Harry Potter star Radcliffe would play Lord Coe, the long-distance runner turned politician who masterminded the Olympics in London last year.

The movie will reunite Radcliffe with The Woman in Black director James Watkins, although neither of them is returning for the sequel to the horror smash.

Gold is still in its early stages, but news of Radcliffe’s involvement will be a huge boost to the sports biopic. There was no announcement over who would play Ovett. Lord Coe, who is not involved in the film, was unavailable to comment on Radcliffe’s casting.

The genre has already been a smash hit at the UK box office this year with the well-received Rush, which told the story of the rivalry between Formula One racing drivers Niki Lauda and James Hunt.  

Gold is based on The Perfect Distance, Ovett & Coe: The Record Breaking Rivalry, a book by Pat Butcher and will start shooting in the UK and Russia from April. Butcher is a consultant on the film.

It has been adapted for the big screen by Simon Beaufoy, who won an Oscar for Slumdog Millionaire, and Will Davies, who was behind How To Train Your Dragon and covers the two British runners in the build up to the 1980 Moscow Olympics.

Christine Langan, head of BBC Films, told Screen Daily: “Compelling, funny and moving, Gold is a gem of a story and BBC Films is proud to be participating in bringing it to an international audience.”

The publicity material for The Perfect Distance, which was published in 2005, said the two runners “presided over the golden era of British athletics”.

Lord Coe and Ovett won three Olympic gold medals, two silvers and a bronze between them. They broke 12 middle-distance records.

Sebastian Coe (right) and Steve Ovett during the Men’s 1500m final at the 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow (Getty) Sebastian Coe (right) and Steve Ovett during the Men’s 1500m final at the 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow (Getty)
“As far apart as possible in terms of class and upbringing, their rivalry burned as intense on the track as away from it,” according to the book.

“The pendulum swung between the pair of them – each breaking the other’s records and, memorably, triumphing in each other’s events in Moscow in 1980.”

Scriptwriter Beaufoy, who also wrote The Full Monty, completed the script earlier this year. ““I hadn’t realised how good it was until you dig into their past,” he told the BBC.

“They were fantastically different athletes and different people. And they rarely met... apart from on the track - but not very often, even on the track.

Lord Coe, who was chairman of the London 2012 Olympics, did give Beaufoy an interview but Ovett, who lives in Australia, refused to be involved.

Tim Haslam of Embankment Films said Gold was about “an insatiable need to win, fuelled by intense ambition, only possible through the support of a loving family”.

This is not Radcliffe’s first biopic. His performance as Beat poet Allen Ginsberg was well received after Kill Your Darlings had its premiere at the Sundance Film Festival this year. The film is set of release in the UK in December.

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