BBC Films spies first franchise

Pic based on kids' action Cherub books has 'Creep' helmer on board

BBC Films is getting into the big-screen franchise business for the first time, commissioning a script based on the first in a series of teenage spy books by Robert Muchamore.

Billed as "more Bourne than Bond," the series of novels is known as the Cherub books. Ronan Bennett has written a screenplay for BBC Films for the first outing, and helmer Chris Smith, who shot to commercial success with his big-screen debut "Creep," will direct.

BBC Films board member Joe Oppenheimer said the shoot is planned for August, but no budget has been drawn up. Billed as a kids' actioner, the movie will include skateboard chases. It will be produced by Sarah Radclyffe, with Hanway Films selling worldwide in Berlin. The BBC said it hopes to partner with a studio on the project, with a view to creating a franchise. There are five books in the series.

BBC Films also is developing a project from writer-director James Watkins, whose "Eden Lake" scared up good boxoffice with its tale of gang violence. The unit is developing a Stephen Volk script for Watkins to direct called "The Buried," which former BBC Films chief David Thompson will produce.

The film arm also is continuing its traditional role of developing big costume dramas from literary sources. It has sealed a deal with the estate of Vera Brittain to bring her classic World War I memoir "Testament of Youth: An Autobiographical Study of the Years 1900-1925" to the big screen. The ink is drying on the BBC's option for the book, but BBC Films said it's "looking to partner with a big (studio) name" on its development.

BBC Films also has acquired cartoonist Posy Symmonds' graphic novel "Tamara Drewe," which details the story of a woman who, after being reinvigorated by cosmetic surgery, returns to her rural roots and begins mixing it up with the locals. BBC is developing it with U.K. production banner Ruby Films. (partialdiff)