Mel Gibson's 'Singing Detective' turns Tinseltown on to British TV

They've plundered comic books, video games and even their own back catalogues. Now Hollywood studios are raiding the archives for classic British TV dramas in their latest, desperate attempt to find bankable new franchises.

As critics discuss the merits of Mel Gibson's big-screen version of The Singing Detective at this week's Sundance Film Festival, plans are afoot to turn a host of other classic serials into movies.

Edge of Darkness, the BBC's Bafta-winning Eighties thriller about a police inspector's investigation into the murder of his anti-nuclear activist daughter, is to be made into a film, as isThe Politician's Wife, the Channel 4 drama about the vengeful spouse of a philandering Conservative MP, which starred Juliet Stevenson and Trevor Eve. And Lynda La Plante is putting the finishing touches to the screenplay for a movie version of her popular police drama Prime Suspect.

Even Brideshead Revisited is about to be given the movie treatment. Evelyn Waugh's novel, which was turned into the most acclaimed ITV drama serial of all time, is being adapted by the prolific British screenwriter Andrew Davies.

Meanwhile, plans are afoot to reinvent The Prisoner, the cult Sixties science fiction series starring Patrick McGoohan as an abducted agent who wakes up in a mysterious village, for cinema audiences.

As with many big-screen adaptations, there were early signs that the producers of The Singing Detective had taken worrying liberties with Dennis Potter's original script in an effort to simplify it for multiplex audiences.

The BBC serial starred Sir Michael Gambon as Philip E Marlowe, a writer of detective novels, who, while bed-ridden in hospital with a severe skin disease, lapses into a fantasy world peopled by his own creations.

In the new version, his character is re-named Dan Dark, and played by the much younger, and rather more photogenic, Robert Downey Jnr. His psychiatrist, Dr Gibbon (Scottish actor Bill Paterson in the original), is portrayed by Mel Gibson, who also co-produced the film. But early reports suggest it is something of a minor triumph. In the Sundance festival's own guide, it is described as "a jewel of a film", and Downey Jnr is praised for his "outstanding performance".

The success of the film can be put down in part to the fact that Potter himself was able to complete its screenplay shortly before his death from cancer eight years ago. However, not all of the upcoming adaptations of TV serials will be similarly blessed, prompting speculation that the latest Hollywood trend may prove to be a fleeting fad.

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Leo Barraclough, managing editor of Screen International, the industry newspaper, said: "Hollywood has never been fussy about where it gets its ideas from. Anything that's proved to have worked in the past, they kind of repackage, do it themselves and bugger it up."

OfThe Singing Detective, which, despite its all-star cast, has yet to secure a US distributor, he said: "The problem with something like this is that either you get it or you don't. Whether you can persuade a cinema audience that it will work for them is a difficult question.

"The one thing in its favour is that you could say it falls into the category of modern musical. There's a huge audience for musicals, particularly after Moulin Rouge, though we don't know how long that's going to last."

It is not only as movies that British TV dramas are about to get a new lease of life across the pond. Although hardly classics in the Singing Detective mould, several of the most successful series of recent years are set to be remade for US television. These include the Robson Green vehicle Touching Evil, the rights to which have been bought by Bruce Willis's Cheyenne Productions, and Footballers' Wives, which is to be revamped as Baseball Wives.

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