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In 2013, Benedict Cumberbatch and friend Adam Ackland, then a production manager, made a short film together, Little Favour, and realized they wanted to play a bigger role in the stories they would tell in film and television. At the time, Cumberbatch was on the rise, working on the BBC series Sherloc, and the friends put their own money down, opened a small office and started looking for scripts for the production company they would call SunnyMarch. “We were never doing it for a big moneymaking scheme,” says Ackland, who first met Cumberbatch while shooting the 2008 BBC miniseries The Last Enemy. “We were doing it because we loved what we do, and we wanted to build something that was a home for story makers that needed one. Even the thought of anyone putting any money into us seemed a ludicrous suggestion.”
Eight years later, SunnyMarch has a TV financing deal with StudioCanal, an Emmy-nominated series in Showtime’s Patrick Melrose and a bumper crop of movies out or on the way. Their film The Courier, a Cold War spy movie starring Cumberbatch, has miraculously managed to gross $22.6 million in theaters worldwide since Roadside Attractions opened it in the U.S. in March in the middle of the pandemic, and The Mauritanian, a drama based on the true story of a Guantanamo detainee that stars Jodie Foster as the detainee’s lawyer and Cumberbatch in a smaller role, has made $7.4 million globally since STX released it in the U.S. in February. The company’s next film, Amazon’s The Electrical Life of Louis Wain, a Will Sharpe drama starring Cumberbatch as the turn-of-the-century English artist, will hit theaters Oct. 22.
SunnyMarch has seven employees, all of them but Cumberbatch and Ackland are women — including its head of film, Leah Clarke, and head of television, Claire Marshall — and the company is actively targeting female-driven projects, Ackland says. “If it’s something about motherhood, or if it’s something that affects humanity or something ecological, then we’re interested,” he adds. They’ve bought the rights to the Charlotte McConaghy novel Migrations, about a woman tracking the last migration of birds due to climate change, with Claire Foy attached to star, and the Megan Hunter novel The End We Start From, about a mother and infant who are climate refugees. “They are such an exciting, unique and forward-thinking production company,” says Foy, who also co-stars in Louis Wain. SunnyMarch also backs Letters Live, a project with Canongate Books, which produces live readings to raise money for different charities.
Though Cumberbatch is often busy shooting non-SunnyMarch films, including the Marvel productions, “he’s always at the end of the phone, if he’s not in the country,” Ackland says. “He cares about the films that we make and who we make them with. So he’s on every call that he needs to be on. And quite often, he travels far and wide, to make sure that he’s part of it. It’s important for him that that’s the case, because it’s a partnership, and we do it together.”
This story first appeared in the Sept. 8 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.
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