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English novelist Lawrence Osborne, acclaimed for his enigmatic thrillers set in exotic locales around the world, is set to write a big-screen adaptation of Jon Swain’s cult Khmer Rouge memoir River of Time.
Osborne will executive produce the project alongside Nicholas Simon, CEO of Bangkok-based film company Indochina Productions. The partners, sharing a passion for the source material, approached Swain directly to option the film rights. The deal was closed ahead of this week’s first-ever Virtual Cannes Market.
River of Time has been described as the quintessential memoir of the Vietnam War era, centered mostly on events in Cambodia and Saigon between 1970 and 1975. Swain, an award-winning correspondent for the Sunday Times of London and AFP, arrived in Southeast Asia at the age of 22 and became a key figure among the war correspondents based in Phnom Penh. He was later famously played by Julian Sands in Roland Joffé’s Oscar-winning Khmer Rouge film The Killing Fields. A distinctly British take on the war, River of Time, written in 1997, has been noted for its subtle blend of white-knuckle heroism, stark witness to tragedy and pervasive melancholy for the vanishing milieu of pre-war Indochina.
Said Swain in a statement: “Twenty-five years ago, I finished writing River of Time with an ache in my heart and a tear in my eye. It was my love letter to that lost world and my attempt to make peace with a tumultuous past, to come to terms with my memories of fear, pain and death which I had encountered on an almost routine basis as a young war correspondent in Indochina between 1970 and 1975. … My hope and belief are that the screenplay will bring to life those devastating times, perhaps even in a more vivid way than my book will ever do, deepening understanding and opening eyes, and over and above everything else be a tribute to all the innocent victims of those terrible wars and my friends who didn’t make it back.”
Adds Osborne: “I have been an admirer of Jon Swain’s great book for many years, and it has always seemed to me the most perceptive of the memoirs of that time because it evokes the Indochinese world before it was destroyed by the war. Swain was always his own man during the war, and therefore he brings to the memory of it a very personal sensibility. I recognize his Indochina on a personal level, too. To re-tell his story in the medium of film is to come close to a place about which I have my own memories.”
Simon comes to the project most recently from line producing the Vietnam shoot of Spike Lee’s Da 5 Bloods. The producer says Rive of Time resonates with him in part because he also left home for Southeast Asia at age 22, and spent a decade in Vietnam before founding Indochina Productions in Bangkok in 2010.
“I am drawn to the honest voice of the twenty-year-old protagonist moving between la dolce vita of1970s Southeast Asia and the hard, brutal realities of war and death,” Simon says.
Indochiina Productions produced French filmmaker Jean-Stephane Sauviere’s 2017 Thai prison drama A Prayer Before Dawn with James Schamus. The film got a midnight premiere at Cannes courtesy of A24. Indochina Productions also recently serviced the Thai production of the Russo Brothers’ Netflix action hit Extraction, starring Chris Hemsworth.
River of Time joins a growing slate of film projects for Osborne. The movie adaptation of his 2012 novel The Forgiven is currently wrapping production in Morocco with Ralph Fiennes and Jessica Chastain starring and John Michael McDonagh (The Guard) directing. Beautiful Animals, set in Greece and published in 2017, is in development with Amazon Studios and producer John Lesher (Birdman, Black Mass), while his Cambodia-set thriller Hunters in the Dark, from 2015, is moving towards production at Infinity Hill, with Aneurin Barnard (Dunkirk), Alex Pettyfer (Magic Mike) and Tzi Ma (Mulan) in the leads.
On the publishing front, Osborne’s next novel, The Glass Kingdom, about a woman on the run in Bangkok, will be published in August. His most recent work, Only to Sleep, a Philip Marlowe book that he was approached to write by the Raymond Chandler estate, was included in the best books of 2018 lists of The New York Times, NPR and the Guardian.
Osborne is currently at work on the screenplay for River of Time. The producers say they aim to be in production by the end of 2021.
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