BBC Orders 'King Lear' With Anthony Hopkins, Whitney Houston Documentary

Jack Zeman
Whitney Houston

The U.K. public broadcaster also orders a TV adaptation of play 'King Charles III,' which sees Prince Charles ascending to the throne.

The BBC has ordered King Lear, starring Anthony Hopkins, a documentary about Whitney Houston and a TV version of a play that sees Prince Charles ascending to the British throne, the U.K. public broadcaster said Monday.

Produced by former HBO top executive Colin Callender’s Playground Entertainment for BBC Two, no length or format has been set for the King Lear project, according to a spokeswoman.

Documentary Whitney, directed by Nick Broomfield, will look at the music star four years after her death. Broomfield (Sarah Palin: You Betcha!, Aileen: Life and Death of a Serial Killer, Kurt & Courtney) "goes in search of the forces that made and then destroyed the singer who has been described as having one of the greatest voices of the last 50 years," the BBC said.

Meanwhile, King Charles III will be a 90-minute program for BBC Two that will be adapted by playwright and television screenwriter Mike Bartlett (Doctor Foster) from his own Olivier Award-winning script for the play of the same name, with Rupert Goold directing, thereby reuniting the creative team behind the play originally produced by London's Almeida Theatre.

"The piece, daringly written in blank verse, sees Prince Charles ascend to the throne following the Queen’s death," according to a plot description. "But when he refuses to sign a controversial bill into law, political chaos ensues — a constitutional crisis, rioting on the streets and a tank in front of Buckingham Palace. Charles, meanwhile, is forced to wrestle with his own identity and purpose as a ceremonial monarch."

The play has toured in Britain and also made its way to Broadway. King Charles III won best new play honors at the Olivier Awards.

The BBC also announced what it called an "ambitious run of Saturday nights dedicated to arts, music and performance" that will launch on BBC Two in September. "There will be evenings devoted to Marlon Brando and Alan Bennett, landmark profiles of Sue Townsend and Vincent Van Gogh," it said.

The projects were unveiled by Charlotte Moore, recently promoted from head of flagship channel BBC One to BBC controller TV channels and iPlayer, at an event hosted by BBC director general Tony Hall at London's Kensington Gardens.

“I’m excited about the potential we have now, working together, across all our channels and iPlayer to give people the most ambitious, exciting and distinctive range of programming ever," said Moore, promising "programs that inform, educate, entertain and inspire.”

With the government reviewing the BBC's mandate, she said: “Risk-taking, innovation and originality has to apply to everything we make.

"I'm making a commitment to you all tonight that we’re going to be open, collaborative and agile," Moore also promised. "A simpler, coordinated approach to commissioning decisions will deliver more creative opportunities, a greater diversity of distinctive, ground-breaking programs and — crucially — quicker decision-making for all."

Discussing the various BBC TV networks and services, she said: "I’m going to make sure our channels complement each other."

For example, BBC One "helps make Britain great," maintained Moore. "It unites us as a nation around big, shared moments and events. It’s a place where everyone knows they’re going to find the very best programs — programs that are unashamedly popular, that feel timely and relevant and speak to a big, broad audience."

Her highlighting of shows that are "unashamedly popular" was seen as a rebuke of government criticism that the BBC has at times not been distinctive enough when airing highly rated programs.

BBC Two, meanwhile, is "about everything that’s different about our world," she said. "It’s a channel that stretches the mind and takes you to places and subjects you haven’t been before.” Plus, she said BBC Two should be "the flagship channel for contemporary arts and music."

While youth channel BBC Three has moved online-only, BBC Four is also dedicated to culture, including music and arts, and ideas. "BBC Four is a channel for adventurous minds, feeding people’s curiosity about the world with content that’s timeless," Moore explained.

And the BBC iPlayer VOD service "will have an increasingly important part to play in the BBC’s future," she vowed. "I want to grow iPlayer in the future and will explore more premieres and how we reach new audiences.”

Here is a look at some of the other shows Moore announced Monday:

People's History of Pop, for BBC Four
The first episode will be presented by Twiggy. The series will tell the story of pop through the eyes of music fans.

The Secret Lovers, for BBC Two
Directed by Fergus O'Brien, the mixture of drama and documentary is about how in 1950 young researcher Michael Schofield began to set up interviews across the U.K. with gay people "to uncover what it was like to be gay in Britain." The BBC said that the interviews he conducted were with men from three broad categories — those who had been imprisoned for homosexual acts, gay men who had been made to attend psychiatric care and those who lived out their homosexuality in secret. "On the 50th anniversary of the 1967 Sexual Offenses Act, using the original testimony of Schofield's interviewees, The Secret Lovers, a 1x60 minute film, will use a mixture of drama and documentary to cast a light on what life was like before the passing of that revolutionary bill."

Black Britons Season (working title), across networks
Programming includes Black Is the New Black, a documentary series that "explores what it means to be black and successful in Britain today," and White Boys and Black Heroes, an hourlong doc about a British soccer game in 1979 that saw an all-white team take on a side comprised solely of black players.

NW, 90 minutes, for BBC Two
Based on Zadie Smith's novel of London life, adapted by Rachel Bennette, "NW tells the story of Natalie and Leah, friends who grew up together in North West London, whose lives have taken them in different directions," according to a plot summary. "Natalie's wealth and ambition have set her apart from the friends and family she grew up with — and she finds herself asking not only who she really is, but where she belongs. In an area where wealth and poverty are only streets apart, life is fragile — as Natalie and Leah are about to find out."

Wanderlust, 6x60 minutes
The BBC calls the drama from The Honourable Woman producer Drama Republic "a searingly insightful and funny exploration into the relationships of a multigenerational family, looking at how we build and maintain happy relationships and asking whether lifelong monogamy is possible — or even desirable." It will be the first TV series scripted by award-winning playwright Nick Payne, "whose brilliant, distinctive plays (Constellations, If There Is I Haven’t Found It Yet) have earned plaudits from around the world," the broadcaster says.

Downs (working title), 60 minutes, for BBC One
"This film explores the impact of a new screening test that is said to detect Down's syndrome in 99 percent of pregnancies," the BBC said. "Actor Sally Phillips, who has a child with Down’s Syndrome, sets out to explore this emotionally charged debate and ask what effect the test could have on our society. Sally asks what the impact of this scientific breakthrough will be on the future of Down’s syndrome, at a time when the health, life expectancy and well-being for people born with the extra chromosome continues to improve."

History: Henry VIII's Six Wives, 3x60 minutes, for BBC One
"In an ambitious, ground-breaking approach to drama and history, historian Lucy Worsley time travels back to the Tudor Court to witness some of the most dramatic moments in the lives of Henry VIII’s six wives. Combining drama written by Chloe Moss with Lucy’s own contemporary historical comment, Lucy will move seamlessly from the present to the past, appearing as a range of silent servants: a maid, midwife or nurse maid," the BBC said. "As the drama plays out, Lucy eavesdrops on the events in the Royal Court and reports back."

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