Pandora: McCall Smith comes out fighting over the critical 'Ladies' killers

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The Independent Online

Alexander McCall Smith has launched a posthumous defence of Anthony Minghella, the director behind the television adaptation of his best-selling book The No.1 Ladies' Detective Agency.

The film, which the BBC screened over the Easter weekend, turned out to be Minghella's last after he passed away in March during a routine operation.

Although the story, set in Botswana, was well received in some quarters for its warmth, a number of critics hated it. One witheringly called it "twee, quaint, shallow, possibly patronising". The criticism proved all the more stinging as Minghella (who also wrote the screenplay) had died only a few days before it aired.

But speaking to an audience at the Edinburgh International Book Festival over the weekend, McCall Smith reacted angrily to the negative reception to the film, which he described as "perverse".

"I think it is a lovely and beautiful film and I was very distressed at some of the comments from people determined to put this film down because it wasn't about dysfunctional pathologies," he said.

"It was a celebration and Minghella absolutely correctly interpreted the nature of Botswana and reflected the whole thing.

"I was terribly upset when I saw what the critics said, but people will be perverse," he added sadly.

The BBC, however, was not deterred by any criticism and is planning to film a 13-part series of McCall Smith's books using the same cast.

Pegg's too busy for Tarantino

Simon Pegg's attempt to emulate Ricky Gervais's success in the US has come at some cost.

Later this year, Pegg, left, is due to begin filming Paul, the new film he's written with regular collaborator Nick Frost.

Sadly, the shooting schedule means he won't be able to appear in his hero Quentin Tarantino's new project, Inglorious Bastards, in which he was due to star opposite Brad Pitt.

"Unfortunately, the schedule overlaps with another film Simon is already committed to," says a spokesman.

Relax ... now you will give me a £2.5m deal

Even Paul McKenna would admit his books are hardly Tolstoy, but there's no doubting their mesmeric abilities as a money spinner.

Yesterday, it was announced that the celebrity hypnotist – whose previous clients include David Bowie and Naomi Campbell – has just signed a publishing deal in America for an extraordinary £2.5m.

The four-book deal was struck with Sterling Publishers, who will be releasing McKenna's range of self-help manuals.

American audiences are likely to be already familiar with McKenna, who hails from Enfield.

Earlier this year, he signed an equally-lucrative TV contract with the Discovery Network for a series of shows directed at an American audience, and he has a number of prestigious clients in Hollywood, including Ellen DeGeneres and Daryl Hannah.

Toast at breakfast?

Oh, to have been a fly on the wall in the breakfast room of Beijing's Westin Hotel.

Last week, it was reported that Ken Livingstone was a guest at the £1,100-a-night hotel as part of his three-day Olympic jolly, paid for by the Chinese government.

As one Beijing mole points out, it also happens to be same hotel being used by George W Bush and entourage. The former Mayor and Dubya have what you might call "previous".

At a meeting at City Hall a few years back, Ken said of the Bush administration: "This really is a completely unsupportable government and I look forward to it being overthrown as much as I looked forward to Saddam Hussein being overthrown."

The Eagle hasn't landed

Steve Coogan is about to begin a daunting 56-date stand-up tour of the UK, but his determination to "crack" America remains as resolute as ever.

Coogan, whose new film Tropic Thunder is currently top of the box office in the US, says he's planning a new TV series for American audiences.

"I may be doing something for HBO soon, with Justin Theroux, who co-wrote Tropic Thunder," the Mancunian comedian told the LA Times over the weekend.

He added: "Watch this space, you may hear something soon."

British audiences are still waiting on Coogan's long-promised biopic of Eddie "The Eagle" Edwards. I do hope our ski-jump legend won't be kept waiting much longer.

Never blow a kiss at an angry luvvie

More squabbling in Edinburgh, where the feud between the Financial Times hack Ian Shuttleworth and the theatre director Steve Lambert has lurched out of control. Last week, I reported how Shuttleworth enraged Lambert by refusing to co-operate with the participatory premise of his play The Factory, which casts the audience as concentration camp inmates and the actors as guards. Now Guardian blogger Chris Wilkinson has entered the fray, not only refusing to co-operate but by pulling faces at the actors throughout. Wilkinson has since run into Lambert and the cast at a bar, where he blew kisses at them. A colourful bout of verbals were exchanged, with one actor having to be restrained by chums.

Since then, there have been several altercations in the street and Wilkinson has gone to the police.

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