'The Lovely Bones' leaps to silver screen from Richard and Judy

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The lovely Bones , the best-selling novel about a raped and murdered 14-year-old girl who looks down from heaven on the loved ones she has left behind, is to be turned into a film by Peter Jackson, The Lord of the Rings director.

The lovely Bones , the best-selling novel about a raped and murdered 14-year-old girl who looks down from heaven on the loved ones she has left behind, is to be turned into a film by Peter Jackson, The Lord of the Rings director.

Jackson, from New Zealand, has entered into partnership with Channel 4's movie arm, Film Four, to bring Alice Sebold's debut novel to cinema screens.

Published in 2002, The Lovely Bones has been a literary sensation, selling more than a million copies after winning the top prize in Channel 4's Richard and Judy Book Club and spending months in the bestseller lists. It tells the story of Susie Salmon, a girl raped and killed by a neighbour, who tells her tale from a Disneyfied heaven to those coping with the grief of her loss.

Jackson will develop the script with his partner, Fran Walsh, and Philippa Boyens, their co-screenwriter on The Lord of the Rings , before seeking studio backing. This approach will give the trio the creative freedom to work without deadlines. They plan to start writing early next year and the film is unlikely to reach cinemas before autumn 2007.

" The Lovely Bones is that rare combination - a story of a personal tragedy that is heartbreakingly sad, even brutal, and yet infused with acts of understanding, love, and compassion," Jackson told Daily Variety magazine. "It's the best kind of fantasy in that it has a lot to say about the real world."

Jackson said his main challenge would be portraying Susie in heaven.

"It's cleverly not described that well in the book, because Alice wanted your imagination to do the work. We will have to show something on film. It has to be somehow ethereal and emotional, but it can't be hokey."

Sebold, who revealed the grim details of her own rape as an 18-year-old student in her second book Lucky , welcomed the plans.

Film Four chief Tessa Ross said the film unit was committed to remaining true to the novel. "It is a challenge for someone who has been working on goliath projects to go to something so intimate - your right arm has been cut off because your child has been killed," she said.

In The Lovely Bones , Jackson may have found a story line that will take him back to the style of his 1994 hit film, Heavenly Creatures . Starring Kate Winslet, the screenplay was based on the true story of two teenage girls jailed in Christchurch, New Zealand in 1952 for murdering one of their mothers.

Fresh from sweeping the boards at last year's Oscar's where The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King won a record-breaking 11 awards, including best director, Jackson is working on a remake of the classic horror movie, King Kong .

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