BBC Films Teams With 'Empire of the Sun' Producer for 'Children of Willesden Lane' (Exclusive)

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Robert Shapiro

The period drama, from producer Robert Shapiro, follows the real-life story of a young Austrian musician who fled to the U.K. before the outbreak of WWII.

BBC Films has added to its growing current slate of upcoming projects with The Children of Willesden Lane, the big screen adaptation of the 2003 book by Mona Golabek and Lee Cohen.

The project has been written by Joe Shrapnel and Anna Waterhouse, who recently teamed to write Focus Features' Jesse Owens biopic Race, and will be produced by Robert Shapiro, the former Warner Bros. veteran who was behind Empire of the Sun, Pee-wee’s Big Adventure and Black Beauty. Christine Langan and Ed Wethered will exec produce for BBC Films, the U.K. broadcaster's feature filmmaking arm.  

The story follows Golabek’s mother, Lisa Jura, a brilliant young pianist who fled pre-WWII Vienna as part of the Kindertransport, a rescue effort that brought almost 10,000 mostly Jewish children to the U.K. in the months prior to the war’s outbreak.

According to the film's synopsis, Jura is selected when her father wins a Kindertransport ticket in a poker game.

“He and Lisa’s mother face an impossible choice: which of their three daughters will escape the horror of pogrom following the devastation of Kristallnacht,” it adds. “Lisa is chosen, in part, because of her exceptional musical talent, and, before long, finds herself living in a North London boarding house presided over by the charismatic Mrs. Cohen.”

A stage production of the book — starring Golabek and entitled The Pianist of Willesden Lane — recently concluded after a sold out run at London’s St. James Theater following shows in New York, Chicago, Boston, Berkeley, Los Angeles and San Diego.

The Children of Willesden Lane is one of several period projects in the works at BBC Films. Others include EFM hit A United Kingdom directed by Amma Asante and starring David Oyelowo and Rosamund Pike, and Gurinder Chadha’s Viceroy’s House starring Hugh Bonneville, both with Pathe.

StudioCanal is also backing the hotly-anticipated Untitled Donald Crowhurst Project from James Marsh and starring Colin Firth, alongside Swallows and Amazons, based on the children’s novels by Arthur Ransome.

Other upcoming releases include Florence Foster Jenkins, with Meryl Streep and Hugh Grant, which is being released May 6 in the U.S. by Paramount, Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie together with Fox Searchlight and eOne's The Office spin-off David Brent: Life on the Road.

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