Film trifecta tops U.K. trio's slate


A vintage British television classic, a former prime minister and an elderly man who joins a choir are central to three movie projects being developed by the triumvirate of BBC Films, Pathe and the U.K. Film Council as part of the trio's big-budget joint development slate, the parties said Monday.

The French-owned, U.K.-based Pathe, BBC Films and the Film Council are jointly developing a big-screen version of the classic 1970s BBC television series "Upstairs, Downstairs," from a script by Fay Weldon.

Weldon penned the first episode of the original series, which revolves around an aristocratic, Edwardian-era family that lives upstairs in a house with their servants below.

Mike Mansfield and Hilary McLaren Tipping will produce for Mike Mansfield Films.

The trio also are developing a movie that follows British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher during the run-up to the 1982 Falklands War (HR 3/19). Brian Fillis wrote the script based on an original concept by himself and producer Damian Jones.

The three also are backing the tale of a recently widowed elderly man who gets more than he bargained for musically and emotionally when he joins an unconventional choir. Paul Andrew Williams, who won plaudits for "London to Brighton," is penning "The Choir," with Ken Marshall producing for Steel Mill Pictures.

Two other films round out the initial five-picture slate from the trio, including a script from Oscar winner Julian Fellowes ("Gosford Park") and "Harry Potter" series producer David Heyman.

Fellowes is writing "Emma & Nelson," a historical love story about a country girl who embarks on a passionate affair with Admiral Nelson before falling from grace after his death at the Battle of Trafalgar.

Nick Barton and Suzanne Mackie of Harbour Pictures, the team behind "Calendar Girls," will produce "Emma."

Heyman is producing "The Thirteenth Tale," based on the New York Times best-seller by Diane Setterfield, which blends a ghost story with mystery.

Pathe united with BBC Films and the Film Council last year to establish a three-year, $24 million joint development plan to "identify bigger properties with commercial potential."

The idea is to allow the filmmaking companies to band together on projects that might be deemed too expensive for them to acquire or develop individually, the parties said.

Said Pathe U.K. managing director Cameron McCracken: "We have had to compete aggressively for these properties, and we are confident that the industry is now aware that we are ready to step up to the plate for the right projects."