After play is a hit, stand by for Maxwell the Movie

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He was always a larger than life character in a drama you could scarcely have made up. And now the life - and death - of Robert Maxwell is destined for the big screen.

The rights to a hit play about the disgraced media mogul have been snapped up by the veteran American producer Edward R Pressman, whose whose previous work includes Wall Street, American Psycho and the recently released Thank You For Smoking.

Pressman caught the one-man show, Lies Have Been Told, by Rod Beacham, in London earlier this year. He was so impressed by the play, which is enjoying a second stint in the West End, that he is back this week for talks with potential directors and screenwriters for the movie adaptation.

"Maxwell's story is Citizen Kane meets Wall Street," Pressman said yesterday. "I'd heard about Maxwell and read about him but when I saw the play, it all came together in a very exciting way as a character for the basis of a movie."

Like the Gordon Gekko character in Wall Street or Claus von Bulow in Reversal of Fortune, Maxwell was a "larger than life character of moral complexity and controversy", he said.

The play, which is at the Trafalgar Studios in London until 15 July, stars Philip York whose idea it was. It began several years ago on the Edinburgh Fringe where it was spotted by Dale Djerassi, a documentary film producer who was previously married to Maxwell's daughter Isabel.

He backed the transfer to Londonand had an option on the film rights which he has happily ceded to Pressman.

Robert Maxwell was born into a poor family in Slovakia in 1923 and came to Britain as a refugee. He fought with the British Army in the war. Afterwards he went into the publishing business, became, briefly, an MP, and ended up as proprietor of newspapers, including the Daily Mirror.

But after he was found floating in the sea off his luxury yacht in 1991, it emerged that he had siphoned millions of pounds from his companies, and notably their pension funds, to prop up his business empire.

Djerassi said: "Robert Maxwell's life and death are a tale of epic proportions."

Unlike the play, a one-man show in which Maxwell gives his version of the events surrounding his life and death, the film will include a full gamut of characters.

Pressman said Philip York was so "wonderful" as Maxwell in the one-man show that he had to be considered for the part in the film. "If I have a major film-maker who wants to go with him, I wouldn't object at all," he said. "We would have to surround him with other actors that might be better known, but he can't be discounted."

He is taking potential directors and writers to see the play.

The producer, who is currently in Britain finishing a sci-fi film, The Mutant Chronicles starring John Malkovich, said he hoped to take the stage version with Philip York to New York long before any film was completed.

Members of the Maxwell family, including his sons Kevin and Ian, have also seen the production, although they have had no involvement or say in the content.