Slumdog the musical calls in Julian Fellowes

Danny Boyle has broken off talks on staging his hit movie after an argument over artistic control

Guy Adams
Sunday 20 May 2012 00:28
Danny Boyle (centre) on Oscar night
Danny Boyle (centre) on Oscar night

It was an old-fashioned Hollywood fairy tale: the low-budget movie, with a feel-good plotline and a virtually unknown cast, that managed to capture the public imagination before walking away with no fewer than eight Oscars at the Academy Awards in Los Angeles.

Three years after that unlikely triumph, plans for Slumdog Millionaire's third act, as a stage musical, are mired in ugly controversy after Danny Boyle, the British director who was the "face" of the film's triumph, broke off negotiations to help bring the production to London's West End.

Boyle, the man behind Trainspotting, 127 Hours and the opening ceremony of the London Olympics, is thought to have spent more than a year discussing the project with producer Paul Smith, a TV mogul whose firm, Celador, created the quiz show Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?

Their talks have now ended, however, seemingly in acrimony. And to the dismay of Boyle's fans, Smith is believed to be lining up a rival British Oscar-winner, the Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes to mastermind the forthcoming stage-show in his place.

"Danny has a great attachment to Slumdog, and so of course wanted to make it with exactly the same creative team: screenwriter Simon Beaufoy, composer AR Rahman, and producer Christian Colson," a source close to negotiations told The Independent on Sunday.

"Those talks broke down, and we now hear Smith is in talks with Fellowes and Matthew Warchus, the guy behind Ghost, to make the musical in their place... I wouldn't say Danny is angry. He's not that kind of guy. But there are plenty of people who are outraged for him, and the public deserves to know what's going on."

Smith co-produced and financed the Slumdog movie, but was not named or thanked in any of Boyle, Beaufoy, Colson or Rahman's Oscar-night speeches. However, the cause of their recent disagreements is understood to boil down to something more pragmatic: artistic control.

One of the four Oscar-winners who made the film, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that neither Beaufoy nor Boyle was willing to sign a deal that did not give them the final say on the contents of the musical's script and decisions on casting and staging.

They were also unwilling to make a musical version of Slumdog without the involvement of Colson, the film's co-producer. But Smith, who had already brought a veteran theatre producer, David Ian, on board, is said to have been unwilling to make space for a third partner.

Meanwhile Rahman, who owns the rights to "Jai Ho", the film's signature song, was reluctant to be involved in the project without the blessing of his former colleagues. It is unclear whether the track will be allowed to feature in the eventual stage musical.

"We won five Oscars between the four of us, and the film made more than £200m, so it's not like we did such a bad job last time," said the Oscar-winner. “We have the creative shorthand, and know how to work together. We just aren’t prepared to sign a deal that makes the musical subject to the approval of someone else. That’s not how we work.”

In an email to yesterday's LA Times, Beaufoy said that he was “saddened by what’s happened” to the stage project. Representatives of Rahman, Boyle and Colson confirmed that they were not involved with Smith’s production.

“It’s genuinely not about the money,” another source said. “They aren't like that. I mean, Danny was to receive £100,000 for doing the Olympics, but refused to take it and instead said it should be used to help disadvantaged children to attend events. They aren’t motivated by cash. It’s a matter of principle.”

The group is understood to be particularly upset at the prospect of Fellowes taking over the project, the source added. “Simon and Danny are northern lads and this is a story about aspirations and triumph of the working class. Fellowes is a Tory. How can he possibly understand a story like Slumdog?”

Smith’s firm, Celador, originally planned to bring the Slumdog musical to stage in 2013. However he said yesterday that it was now more likely to be launched in 2014. He confirmed that Colson had not been asked to participate in the project, but insisted that he would still welcome Boyle, Beaufoy and Rahman on board if the right contitions were met.

“I haven’t contracted anyone to work on this yet,” he said. “Discussions have been taking place, but the whole project is in an embryonic stage.” He said that “one of” the duo of Julian Fellowes and Matthew Warchus had indeed been approached about the musical, but added that they are “not even close” to agreeing any deals.

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