By Oliver Lyttelton | www.oliverlyttelton.com November 10, 2011 at 10:02AM
It's been something of a banner year, both critically and commercially, for British film, with the likes of "The Inbetweeners Movie" and "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy" tearing it up at the box office at home, while pictures like "Kill List," "Attack the Block," "We Need To Talk About Kevin" and "Shame" have won acclaim from critics at home and abroad. But with the changes in the industry coming from the scrapping of national funding body the UK Film Council last summer starting to take effect, we're at something of a pivot point -- the last of the Film Council-funded features are starting to roll out, and it remains to be seen what kind of effect the move of funding to the British Film Institute will have.
Perhaps the first sign is this year's Brit List. The annual compilation of the best unmade scripts, voted for by industry professionals, was revealed by Variety, and it shows a certain robust health to the industry despite the transition, with seemingly more high-ranking projects from brand new names than ever before. Unlike its U.S. counterpart the Black List, which has been topped by the likes of "The Social Network" in the past, this isn't an automatic path to success; previous winners such as "The Men Who Stare At Goats" and "Nowhere Boy" were damp squibs on film, while the last two victors, "Good Luck Anthony Belcher" and "Sex Education," are yet to go in front of cameras (although last year's list includes projects like the Rebecca Hall/James Marsh IRA thriller "Shadow Dancer," the Paddy Considine-starrer "Honour," Paul Andrew Williams' Oscar hopeful "Song For Marion" and Eran Creevy's high-octane actioner "Welcome to the Punch," with James McAvoy and Mark Strong, which should all hit theaters in the next eighteen months).
For the third year in a row, we've delved into the list to find some details on some of the projects. We've, as yet, not read any of them ourselves, but hopefully they'll cross our paths sooner rather than later.
10 Votes - "The Call Up" by Charles Barker
This year's top slot, somewhat surprisingly, is taken by the virtually unknown commercials helmer Charles Barker, with what seems to be, as far as we can tell, his first script. The director has been behind promos for brands like Panasonic, Carling and Classic FM, and has been attached to other projects in the past, like the gangster thriller "Hard Knock Life" and sci-fi cop movie "Serve & Protect" (both by last year's Brit Lister Philip Gawthorne), but this one is a sci-fi horror based around on-line gaming. Matt Wilkinson, the former head of development at UK film behemoths Working Title, is producing through his Stigma Films label. The log-line reads: "A group of online gamers are invited to trial a state-of-the-art virtual reality sim, but what starts out like a dream encounter with cutting edge video technology – a perfect representation of soldiers in a warzone – takes a turn for the sinister when the stakes are raised to fatal. These masters of the shoot ‘em up will have to fight for their lives within a game gone too far: this time it’s for real."
8 Votes - "Ordinary Thunderstorms" by William Boyd
Arguably the best-known name on the list, Boyd is one of Britain's best novelists, and he's had a sideline in screenwriting, adapting his own books "Stars and Bars," "A Good Man in Africa" and "Any Human Heart," as well as credits on Bruce Beresford's "Mister Johnson" and Richard Attenborough's "Chaplin." Here, he's taking on his own work again, for an adaptation of a 2009 novel about a climate change scientist forced on the run after being framed for murder by a conspiracy involving a pharmaceutical company. BBC Films and Origin Pictures ("The Awakening") have teamed for the project; there's currently no director attached.
7 Votes - "Olivia and Jim" by Henrietta & Jessica Ashworth
One of the most oblique on the list, we've got no idea on the log-line for this one, but it's reportedly a comedy, and penned by two twentysomething sisters, Henrietta & Jessica Ashworth, the latter of whom is an actress, best known for playing the younger version of the title character in the BBC's "Doctor Who" spin-off "The Sarah-Jane Adventures." It's set up at Forward Films, who were behind the excellent "Skeletons" and next year's horror-comedy "Grabbers."
"Lilting the Past" by Hong Khaou
By day, Khaou works for Peccadillo Pictures, the LGBT-leaning U.K. distributor who've just put out one of the best films of the year, Andrew Haigh's "Weekend." By nights and weekends, he's been directing short films, having made it halfway through a quartet entitled "Summer," "Spring," "Monsoon" and "Winter," the second of which played at Sundance and Berlin this year. Newcomer Dominic Buchanan is producing, and the film reportedly centers around a grieving mother.
6 Votes - "Tusk Tusk" by Polly Stenham
The 24-year-old Stenham made headlines when her debut play, "That Face," played at the Royal Court Theatre to huge critical acclaim when she was only 20, launching the careers of Matt Smith ("Doctor Who") and Felicity Jones ("Like Crazy") in the process. "Tusk Tusk" is an adaptation of her second, equally well-received play, about three children abandoned by their mother. It teams Origin and Film4.
"X+Y" by Jamie Graham
Another youthful playwright, Jamie Graham's had great success with the likes of "Eden's Empire," "Tory Boyz" and "The Whiskey Taster" in top London theaters like the Finborough and the Bush in the last few years, as well as making his TV debut with the one-off comedy-drama "Caught in a Trap" in 2008, and writing for Showtime's "Secret Diary of a Call Girl." This script, another BBC Films production, is a coming-of-age tale about a group of maths prodigies on a trip to China.
"Man Up" by Tess Morris
Morris made her screenwriting debut in 1997 with the short film "Beer Goggles," directed by David Mackenzie ("Young Adam," "Perfect Sense"). In the intervening time, she's worked mostly in TV comedy, most notably on the long-running sitcom "My Family," and has another feature project, "Charlie Ferrari," about an unpopular schoolboy who wakes up from a coma imagining he's his cool online alter-ego, in the works. Details on this project are under wraps, but it's a rom-com and as it's set up at Big Talk, the home of "Hot Fuzz" and "Attack the Block," we're expecting good things.
5 Votes - "Second is Nowhere" by William Davies
Probably the biggest-grossing writer on the list, a man with credits on both "Johnny English" films, "Twins" and "How To Train Your Dragon," Davies is an experienced writer on a slightly different track here with this BBC Films drama playing sort of like "Chariots of Fire." Formerly titled "The Perfect Distance," it tracks the rivalry between British athletes Steve Ovett and Sebastian Coe, the latter of whom went on to head up the bid for next year's London Olympics. It's set up at AL Films, who backed the TV miniseries "Small Island."
4 Votes - "Bad Traffic" by Jay Basu
Basu's one of the hottest British writers around. He sold a new version of the Merlin tale to Working Title last year, he has found-footage horror "The Dinosaur Project" in production, and he's co-written Olympics drama "Fast Girls" with Noel Clarke. This project is an adaptation of the crime thriller "Bad Traffic," by Simon Lewis, about a Chinese cop who travels to the U.K. to find his daughter, who may have been taken by human traffickers. Nick Wechsler ("The Road") is one of the producers, and names like Eric Bana, Gerard Butler and Russell Crowe are being sought for one of the lead roles.
"Testament of Youth" by Juliette Towhidi
Based on the classic WW1 memoir by Vera Brittain, who became a nurse after her lover and her brother were killed in the war, this was previously adapted into a 1979 TV miniseries, but the new take comes from Juliette Towhidi, who co-wrote the script for the hit "Calendar Girls," and is a co-production between BBC Films and "Harry Potter" producer David Heyman.
"Baghdad Wedding" by Hassan Abdulrazzak & Nick Drake
Abdulrazzak has a more colorful backstory than most writers here. Of Iraqi background, and born in Prague, he doubles as a playwright and screenwriter even while working full time at Imperial College, London as a post-doctoral researcher into stem-cell biology. Based on his 2007 breakout play, co-adapted with "Romulus, My Father" screenwriter Nick Drake, this follows Salim, a bisexual Iraqi doctor-turned-novelist who returns to post-war Baghdad for his wedding, only for the reception to be broken up by gunfire from a U.S. helicopter, mistaking the celebrations for an insurgent attack. The play was hugely acclaimed when it debuted at London, and it's no surprise that this is in the works at heavyweights Focus Features.
"Burnthaven" by Sebastian Foster
A Utah-set western about a marshal working his way through 23 criminals to find the man who killed his best friend, this is from Sebastian Foster, who's got three other films in the works, including "Black Ice," which has Oscar-nominated Estonian director Tanel Toom attached, leading to Screen calling him one of their 2011 Stars of Tomorrow. "Slumdog Millionaire" producer Christian Colson has this one at his Cloud Eight production company.
"Like A Virgin" by Catherine Shepherd
Shepherd is best-known as a TV performer, with credits including "The Peter Serafinowicz Show" and the recent Comic Strip reunion "The Hunt For Tony Blair." This comedy was one of the last scripts to receive UK Film Council funding, and according to the now-defunct body, is "a bold female-centred comedy about Mary who, with her wedding looming, is visited by a possibly drug-induced angel who brings good and bad news about her future. Mary then hits the road to find Mr Right." It's essentially a comic twist on the Nativity.
3 Votes - "The Invisible Woman" by Abi Morgan
Abi Morgan's had a pretty good 2011. Her TV show "The Hour" was one of the highlights of small-screen viewing of the year, and she penned both "The Iron Lady" and "Shame," the latter with director Steve McQueen. We've reported on this project over the summer, and you'll remember it tells the story of Charles Dickens and his affair with younger actress Ellen 'Nelly' Ternan. It'll mark Ralph Fiennes' directorial follow-up to "Coriolanus," although the actor won't play Dickens, while Carey Mulligan, Abbie Cornish, Felicity Jones and Imogen Poots were said to be in the running to play Ternan not long ago.
"Our Kind of Traitor" by Hossein Amini
A perfect storm of some of the most acclaimed films of recent months, this pairs source material from "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy" author John Le Carre, and a script by Hossein Amini, whose work on "Drive" has seem him go on to redraft blockbusters like "Snow White and the Huntsman" and "47 Ronin." Set in Antigua, and involving a Russian money launderer who attempts to defect to the West, it's set up at The Ink Factory.
"A Most Wanted Man" by Andrew Bovell
Another Le Carre adaptation, this time of his 2008 novel, this one looks likely to get in front of cameras before 'Traitor.' "Control" and "The American" director Anton Corbijn is attached to direct a script by "Lantana" and "Strictly Ballroom" writer Andrew Bovell, which involves a human rights lawyer in Hamburg, trying to prevent the deportation of a young Chechen muslim, only to discover a bigger conspiracy at work. Film4 are backing it, and it's set to shoot next spring in Germany, although no cast is in place as yet.
"Miss You Already" by Paul Andrew Williams & Morwenna Banks
Paul Andrew Williams is the only repeat name on the list this year. The director of "London to Brighton" and "The Cottage" made it in 2010 with "Song for Marion," the comedy-drama with Terence Stamp, Vanessa Redgrave and Gemma Arterton which The Weinstein Company picked up earlier in the week, and he's back again this time round with "Miss You Already," co-written by veteran TV comic (and brief SNL cast-member: she lasted four episodes in 1995) Morwenna Banks. There's no details on this one as yet, other than it being about 'love, loss and laughter.'
"The Buccaneers" by Heidi Thomas
Thomas has become something of a period drama specialist in the last few years; she penned the Bill Nighy/Romola Garai adaptation of "I Capture the Castle" a few years back, and has since written the TV smash "Cranford" and the new version of "Upstairs Downstairs." As well as adapting "Middlemarch" for Sam Mendes, she's found times to write this big screen take on Edith Wharton's last, unfinished novel, about five wealthy American girls who are steadily married off to titled, impoverished Englishmen. Alison Owen ("Tamara Drewe," "Jane Eyre") is producing.
"Far From The Madding Crowd" by David Nicholls
This one should be pretty much self-evident. An adaptation of the Thomas Hardy novel (one of the few that Michael Winterbottom's not yet adapted...), from "One Day" and "Starter for Ten" scribe David Nicholls, who cut his period drama teeth with his script for the currently-filming Mike Newell take on "Great Expectations," which made the list itself a few years back.
"I Macrobane" by Ben Wheatley
"Kill List" writer/director Wheatley is currently filming his follow-up, the Edgar Wright-produced horror/comedy "Sightseers," from writers/stars Steve Oram and Alice Lowe. But he's on the Brit List with his next next film, the dark comedy "I Macrobane," which will star "Kill List" vet Michael Smiley, as a character named George Clooney, opposite Nick Frost, as two childhood friends who burned their school down as kids, only to be reunited in adulthood. Wheatley told us that it's "slightly psychedelic, and odd and very violent, but funny as well," it's being backed, like "Sightseers," by Big Talk, and shooting should get underway in April.
"Available Light" by Amber Trentham & Thomas Carty
Planned to be the feature directorial debut of ad-helmer Carty, who wrote the legendary Guiness "Surfer" ad directed by Jonathan Glazer, before helming promos for the likes of Nike and the BBC, he's teamed up with former script editor Trentham for this project. It sounds like a pretty dark tale of a paralyzed gardener kidnapped by a brothel owner, who falls in love with a prostitute.
"The Chinese Busker" by Trevor Preston.
Possibly the longest-serving vet on the list, Preston has TV credits going back to the 1960s, including an early TV version of "The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe," although he's perhaps best known as one of the key writers on fondly remembered 1970s British cop show "The Sweeney." He had a second wind a decade or so ago after writing "I'll Sleep When I'm Dead," which reteamed "Croupier" pair Clive Owen and Mike Hodges ("Get Carter"), and Hodges is attached to direct this film, described as the second of a "trilogy of violence" that started with 'I'll Sleep.' Last we heard, Gallic veteran Jean Rochefort was attached to star.
"The Good People" by Nicholas Horwood
Horwood's more or less a first timer, and this is one of the more genre-led outings on the list, described on the site of production company Escape Films thusly: "Haunted by the memory of a driving accident, American science-fiction writer Mark Bellow escapes to rural England to find peace in a 17th century cottage. Before long, Mark finds himself in a surreal world - one that is bound by the villagers' belief in the Good People, and scarred by their tragic history. As his own dark past begins to resurface, Mark finds that the line between the rational and the irrational is not as solid as he thought. It is already too late by the time he discovers that just because you don't believe in something, doesn't mean it can't hurt you."
"The Slackfi Project" by Howard Overman
Sold for big money to Sony and "The Amazing Spider-Man" producer Matthew Tolmach earlier in the year, this sci-fi comedy involves a barista convinced by soldiers from the future to help them save the world. It's written by Overman, who's best known as the writer of cult U.K superpowered teen series "Misfits," soon to get a remake from "Chuck" creators Josh Schwartz.
"Taking Off" by David F Shamoon
A road movie about a couple in their 50s on their way to their son's wedding, this is from David F Shamoon, a Canadian writer whose sole other credit is "In Darkness," Agniesza Holland's imminent WW2 drama that's seen to be a front-runner for a Best Foreign Language Film Oscar nomination.
"Walking on Sunshine" by Joshua St. Johnston
This 1980s-set Mediterranean-set musical about a mother and daughter who both fall in love with the same man comes from Vertigo Films, and directors Max & Dania, who helmed the sleeper hit "StreetDance 3D," and its upcoming sequel. The script's from Josh St. Johnston, who is a partner in Ray Winstone's production company, having penned the star's TV version of "Sweeney Todd." He also made headlines earlier in the year by selling "Teens on a Train," a high-school friendly take on Hitchcock's "Strangers on a Train."