Queen of pop sweeps into husband's film

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Undeterred by a string of box office and critical flops, Madonna has agreed to star in another film, this time directed by her husband, Guy Ritchie.

She will take the lead role in a modern version of Lina Wertmuller's 1975 Italian film, Swept Away, playing a spoilt rich woman whose yachting holiday with friends in the Mediterranean sparks an unlikely romance with a Communist sailor.

The film will be the British director's third feature and a marked departure from his two previous efforts, the London underworld dramas of Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, and Snatch. Madonna and Ritchie have worked together before. He shot her recent video, What It Feels Like for a Girl, but whether his talent behind the camera is formid-able enough to transform her unspectacular career in acting remains to be seen.

Her first foray on to the big screen came almost 23 years ago when, at the age of 20, she starred in a soft porn film named A Certain Sacrifice. The film, which showed an undiscovered Madonna cavorting in a wet T-shirt, included group sex and simulated rape. She later tried and failed to have the film banned through the American courts. She also co-starred with her first husband, Sean Penn, in the 1986 film Shanghai Surprise, which also failed to please audiences. Their stormy marriage came to an end three years later.

Filming for her latest movie could begin shooting as early as this autumn. Her last appearance at British cinemas was last year in the romantic comedy, The Next Best Thing, co-starring Rupert Everett.

After a series of flops such as Dick Tracy, and Body of Evidence, Madonna pleaded with Andrew Lloyd Webber and Alan Parker to let her play Eva Peron in the big-budget version of Evita. When they finally agreed in 1996, she worked hard to make it a success, openly admitting her faults and fears, and gave a performance that pleased most critics.

The return to film may well fuel speculation that she will soon retire from the music business. The movie news has been dismissed as a publicity stunt to maintain interest in her current tour, though this is strongly denied by her UK press agent. Rumours persist though that Madonna is keen to spend more time with Ritchie, her son Rocco, 11 months, and her daughter, Lourdes, four.

Reports last week quoted sources close to the singer saying: "She's done everything in the business, so why does she need to bother going on?"