`Full Monty' hit by plagiarism writ

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THE MAKERS of The Full Monty, celebrated world-wide for its original Yorkshire wit, are being sued for plagiarism by two New Zealand playwrights. A suit filed in Los Angeles claims the film's setting, premise and some character development were based on a 1987 play "Ladies Night". A lawyer for Fox Searchlight Pictures, the small films subsidiary of Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation which financed the film, yesterday dismissed the suit out of hand. "It seems like these days, almost every film has this kind of claim," said Bert Fields.

But there was speculation that the suit could dampen the film's chances of collecting an Oscar. It has Oscar nominations, for best picture, best director, best score, and best original screenplay.

Playwrights Andrew McCarten and Stephen Sinclair are asking for all of Fox's profits on the film, which cost $3.5m (pounds 2.1m) and has reaped $200 m in ticket sales. Their play opened in several British regional theatres after proving a hit in New Zealand, they allege, where it could have been seen by the film's creative team. The specific similarities seemed, on the face of it, weak.

They included the presence of a sole black character, hints that another is homosexual, and the failing marriage of a third. But the two authors said they will post a copy on a World Wide Web site for the public to "judge for themselves".

In recent weeks The Full Monty's makers have been conducting what amounts to a typical Oscar campaign: print ads in trade newspapers and media interviews with the main players. They help raise the film's profile for the roughly 5,000 voting members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

Mr Fields suggested the suit was deliberately timed to raise doubts just as Oscar ballots are being mailed for voting that concludes a week before the awards show on 23 March.

"Where have these people been the last six or seven months?" he asked.

The suit certainly strikes at the play's heart. Monty is considered a long shot for best picture or director, against the likes of Titanic. Producer Uberto Pasolini told the Los Angeles Times that it was a "wholly original piece of work".