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Jonathan Rhys Meyers, who starred in The Tudors and recently appeared in Vikings, will star in Rajah, a period biopic of legendary British explorer Sir James Brooke.
Hong Kong singer-turned-actress Josie Ho and Dominic Monaghan, best known for his work on the Lord of the Rings movies and Lost, are co-starring in the indie that is being directed by Michael Haussman, the award-winning music director who’s worked with artists ranging from Justin Timberlake to Madonna to Selena Gomez.
The real-life role model for Joseph Conrad’s novel Lord Jim and Rudyard Kipling’s The Man Who Would Be King, Brooke was a patrician English explorer who escaped romantic scandal and the confines of Victorian society to explore the wildlife of 1840s Borneo. Brooke fell in love with this tropical paradise, fighting pirates and the Sultan’s enemies to win a crown as Rajah of Sarawak, where he ruled a jungle kingdom larger than England.
Brooke waged a lifetime crusade against piracy, slavery and headhunting, and was knighted by Queen Victoria for his bravery. But like Lawrence of Arabia, Brooke defied England when the British Empire tried to colonize Sarawak. In reprisal, Parliament later tried him for murder and piracy himself.
Hollywood has long been fascinated with Brooke’s swashbuckling true-life story, with even Errol Flynn, trying to get a biopic off the ground.
With Rhys Meyers playing the explorer, Ho will play Madame Lim, Brooke’s former lover and Chinese leader, and Monaghan will play Colonel Arthur Crookshank, Brooke’s cousin and comrade-in-arms.
Rob Allyn wrote the script and is producing along with Jake and Conor Allyn via their company Margate House Films, in association with Ho and Conroy Chan with their company 852 Films. The picture will be made with the support of the Sarawak Tourism Board and the federal FIMI film rebate of Malaysia.
Allyn spent 10 years working in the region when at one point he came upon a book on Brooke while in Singapore. The palaces, the war canoes, the wardrobe — he was hooked by the evocative images and the real story.
“I was always an admirer of the great adventure stories by Kipling and Conrad, and he was an influence on both,” said Allyn from Borneo, where Rajah will begin shooting next week.
Rhys Meyers, he added, will be doing parts of the movie in Malay, Dayak and Arabic, as the real Brooke was linguist who immersed himself in the region’s culture. And for authenticity, Rajah is using Brooke’s diaries, letters, first-hand historical accounts and archives of The Brooke Heritage Trust. The latter is serving as the film’s technical advisory.
Rhys Meyers is repped by ICM Partners. Ho is repped by John Maatta of Eisner & Frank and David Unger of Artists International, while Monaghan is repped by Buchwald, Link Entertainment, United Agents and attorney Kevin Yorn. Haussman is repped by Artists International and Ziffren Brittenham.
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