'Downton Abbey' Star Hugh Bonneville Eyes Peter James' Thriller 'Dead Simple' As Big-Screen Starring Role

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by Oliver Lyttelton
January 26, 2012 9:19 AM
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"Downton Abbey" has gone from being a simple TV series to something of a phenomenon. The country house soap opera, created by "Gosford Park" Oscar-winner Julian Fellowes, became an instant smash on British TV, and its upstairs/downstairs appeal has carried over to the States in a big way -- it's not every British period drama that gets live-tweeted by Patton Oswalt, now, is it? And with its award-winning success inevitably comes the lure of the big screen for its cast. Names like Dame Maggie Smith and Jim Carter are obviously familiar film faces, but it's providing launching pads for some of its less well known actors too. 

For instance, Jessica Brown-Findlay, who plays youngest daughter Sybil, made a scorching big-screen debut in "Albatross," while after having been swiftly dispatched in "Hanna," Michelle Dockery, who plays eldest daughter Mary, is reuniting with Joe Wright on "Anna Karenina," and Dan Stevens, who plays her love interest Matthew, is starring with Dominic Cooper and Emily Browning in "Summer in February." And now the man of the house, the Earl of Grantham himself, Hugh Bonneville, is looking to become a silver screen leading man too.

Bonneville has been a frequent presence on film, from big roles in "Notting Hill" and "Iris" to, um, fistfighting Nick Cannon on a boat as the villain in forgotten teen actioner "Underclassmen," but the actor seems to have found his first post-'Downton' lead, as Screen Daily reports that the actor has signed on to play detective Roy Grace, the popular hero of Peter James' best-selling novels, in an adaptation of the book "Dead Simple."

James is a former film financier and producer (whose credits include Al Pacino starrer "The Merchant of Venice") who turned to crime writing to great success (his most recent novel outsold James Patterson and Jeffrey Deaver in the U.K.), but is getting back in the game to back a screen version of his own novel, the fifth to feature his hero Roy Grace, a quirky Brighton-based detective struggling to get over the disapperance of his wife. The character has drawn interest from British TV, and even Roman Polanski, in the past, but frustrated by other potential adaptations, James is taking his fate into his own hands.

In "Dead Simple," Grace is tasked with tracking down a bridegroom who has four of his friends murdered, and buried alive on the eve of his wedding, and Bonneville is attached to the lead role. James and co-producer James Simpson are currently raising financing, and,while no director is yet attached, Swiss scribe Daniel Eckhart has been tasked with the adaptation. It's possible that the money may never materialize, but given the international popularity of the novels, and Bonneville's new star status, we wouldn't bet against it.

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