Edgardo Mortara, one of the most ambitious productions at the UK's FilmFour, has collapsed only weeks before it was due to start principal photography.

The $20m period epic starring Anthony Hopkins and Javier Bardem appeared to have survived Channel 4's decision to close down FilmFour as a stand alone operation and return to low-budget UK filmmaking. But in a shock move FilmFour is shutting down the production, which was to start shooting next month in Italy and Romania under East Is East director Damien O'Donnell.

While FilmFour apparently remained committed, the production hit trouble over financing issues. Miramax Films and Senator Films were originally co-financing, although Senator's involvement has been unclear for a number of weeks.

FilmFour was negotiating a deal with The Works, the sales arm of UK media outfit Civilian Content, to take over international sales as its own sales division was being wound down. The project, currently in pre-production, looked to be on as recently as late Friday as a deal with The Works was being finalised.

The collapse is a bitter blow to FilmFour as it represented a chance to refute criticism of the division's strategy of making bigger-budget films for the international market. Only one more of FilmFour's international productions is set to roll - Che Guevara story The Motorcycle Diaries.

Hopkins was to have played Pope Pius IX in the true story of how the Vatican divided Catholics, Protestants, and Jews around the world by kidnapping a Jewish boy in 1858. Oscar-nominated Spanish star Bardem was to have co-starred as the father of Edgardo Mortara, a six-year-old Jewish child kidnapped by agents of the Papal inquisition because he was baptised by a Catholic servant.

The project was developed with producer Julia Chasman, whose credits include Quills and Polish Wedding, and Industry Entertainment's Nick Wechsler. The script is by Rob Eshman, an editor of The Jewish Chronicle, with revisions by Jeremy Brock. Elinor Day was overseeing Edgardo for FilmFour, which declined comment.