Steven Spielberg, Harvey Weinstein Prep Rival Films Based on True Kidnapping Tale

Steven Spielberg and  Harvey Weinstein Split - Getty -  H 2016
Amanda Edwards/WireImage; Steve Granitz/WireImage

Robert De Niro is circling the role of Pope Pius IX in The Weinstein Co.'s rendition.

Harvey Weinstein and Steven Spielberg are poised to go head-to-head once again.

The Weinstein Co. is moving forward with a drama based on the true story of the kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara, with Robert De Niro circling the role of Pope Pius IX. The move pits the untitled film against an Amblin Entertainment project on the subject that will mark Spielberg's next directorial effort.

Baltasar Kormakur is in talks to direct the Weinstein film, which Jeremy Brock (The Last King of Scotland) is penning. Julia Chasman (25th Hour), who has been developing the property for 15 years, is producing, while Nick Wechsler (Magic Mike, The Road) is executive producing.

It's an intriguing twist for the story about a 6-year-old Italian boy who in 1858 was taken from his Jewish parents by police and raised Catholic. Weinstein had been developing a film for eight years on Mortara, which also piqued Spielberg's interest.

The two flirted with combining forces, but that was unlikely given the fraught history between them (a bruising best picture Oscar campaign in 1999 that saw Weinstein's Shakespeare in Love beat Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan for best picture). Then, in April, Spielberg decided to move forward solo.

But Weinstein wasn't about to take the move lying down and put on the fast track his own version of the story of Mortara, who became a high-ranking priest in the Augustinian order. The projects likely will focus on different years in Mortara's life.

Bridge of Spies Oscar winner Mark Rylance is set to star as the pope in the Amblin project, but Weinstein is countering with his own Oscar winner in De Niro. Though there are no deals in place yet for De Niro or Kormakur, the TWC plan is to be in production in January. Spielberg is looking to shoot his version, which Tony Kushner adapted from David Kertzer's book The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara, in spring 2017 and turn the film around in time for a release during awards season.

As for which version will get Pope Francis' anointment, Weinstein might have the edge. He screened Philomena for His Holiness in 2014 and garnered Oscar buzz in the process.

A version of this story first appeared in the Sept. 23 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.