Great expectations for adaptation of 'best un-produced script'

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The Independent Culture

For years a proposed film adaptation of Charles Dickens's Great Expectations by one of Britain's best-loved authors languished in production limbo. The script had even been given the back-handed compliment of an inclusion on an annual list of the best British scripts that could not get made.

But David Nicholls, the writer behind the bestseller One Day, itself being made into a forthcoming film starring Anne Hathaway, has struck production gold. The writer has teamed up with the producer Stephen Woolley and the director Mike Newell, who worked on Four Weddings and a Funeral and Donnie Brasco, to form a team extremely confident of their success. The movie will play a central role in a year-round celebration of Dickens's bicentenary in 2012, co-organised by the capital's strategic film agency, Film London.

"I began working on the script with Stephen two years ago and finally it looks possible," Nicholls said. "We are talking to actors at the moment and it all seems to be OK." Nicholls said the script was a quirk-free adaptation which was faithful to the original book, if sped up for the big screen to move "with a greater sense of urgency" and be "more of a thriller at the end".

In 2009, the script appeared on the "Brit list", an annual poll of the best unproduced movie screenplays on the British market, as voted by British industry insiders. The list is a version of Hollywood's "Black list", an influential survey circulated among the film industry every Christmas.

At the top of 2009's Brit list was George Kay's Good Luck Anthony Belcher, written as a starring vehicle for James Corden, though the movie website still classifies that work as "in development".

Great Expectations is one of cinema's most tackled stories, directed by David Lean in 1948's black-and-white adaptation, subsequently nominated and winning Academy Awards. "The book is obviously written in a number of episodes, with a movie that is more difficult, but there will be nothing wacky, no concepts," Nicholls said. "It already works so well."

Woolley and Nicholls collaborated on the 2007 film And When Did You Last See Your Father, starring Jim Broadbent and Juliet Stevenson.

"I have a good track record of taking projects like this forward," Woolley said. "I normally make one film a year and this will be one of them." Woolley's last film was 2010's Made in Dagenham.

Dickens 2012 will see a BBC Dickens season featuring new dramas and documentaries. The British Film Institute is also planning a huge retrospective.

In development

* The first "Brit list" of best un-produced film screenplays was circulated in 2007 by an agent polling 40 industry insiders. Top of that list was Peter Straughan's The Men Who Stare at Goats and Jack Thorne's The Scouting Book for Boys, both of which have been made into films.

* Last year's list, released in November, was topped by Jonathan Stern and Jamie Minoprio's Sex Education, which has since been attached to director Misha Manson-Smith. The script was followed by Skins scribe Ben Schiffer's Cheerleaders, occupying second place.

* The most recent Hollywood "Black List" was topped by Wes Jones's College Republicans, the true story of George W Bush's former adviser Karl Rove's bid to become College Republican chairman.