By Oliver Lyttelton | www.oliverlyttelton.com March 28, 2012 at 8:58AM
Unless you're up on your British literary phenomenons, you're in the McSweeney's crowd, or you're studying fiction at NYU, the name Zadie Smith might not be terribly familiar. Her first novel, the multi-cultural epic "White Teeth" caused a bidding war on the basis of an extract when the writer was only 22, and became an instant best-seller in 2000, a fate followed by her next two books, 2002's "The Autograph Man" and 2005's "On Beauty," the latter of which was nominated for the Booker Prize, the U.K.'s most prestigious literary award. But aside from a British TV miniseries version of "White Teeth," which showcased early turns from Naomie Harris and James McAvoy among others, Smith, who is currently a tenured professor of fiction at NYU, is yet to have a big-screen film made of one of her works.
But that's about to change, as Deadline reports that Kasi Lemmons, the filmmaker behind "Eve's Bayou," "The Caveman's Valentine" and most recently the underrated Don Cheadle/Chiwetel Ejiofor drama "Talk To Her," has signed on to write and direct an adaptation of "On Beauty." The Boston-set book (in our opinion Smith's finest, and one of the best novels of the last decade) is a loose riff on E.M. Forster's "Howard's End," following two rival academics, the British ex-pat Howard (a perfect role for Bill Nighy) who's married to an African-American woman, and Monty, a conservative Trinidadian based in Britain, whose families are drawn together when their children begin an ill-fated relationship.
The book is complex, funny, smart and sad, and full of memorable characters, so we're surprised that it's taken this long for a film version to get going, and while we don't love everything that Lemmons has made, she seems like an excellent fit for the material -- and we're certainly glad it's in the hands of an African-American filmmaker, rather than somebody like Stephen Daldry. The project is set up at Film4, Ruby Films ("Jane Eyre") and Carol Polakoff Productions, and while there's no news on when it might get before cameras, we hope it's sooner rather than later.