Anthony Hopkins is finalising a deal to play Pope Pius IX opposite Oscar-nominated Spanish star Javier Bardem in FilmFour's $20 million Edgardo Mortara.

Miramax Films and Germany's Senator Film are co-financing the true story of how the Vatican divided Catholics, Protestants, and Jews around the world by kidnapping a Jewish boy in 1858. Damien O'Donnell, who directed FilmFour's UK hit East Is East and Miramax's Heartlands, is to direct in Italy in autumn.

Bardem, Oscar nominated for Julian Schnabel's Before Night Falls, is to play the father of Edgardo Montara, a six-year-old Jewish child kidnapped by agents of the Papal inquisition because he was baptised by a Catholic servant. Despite protests from Emperor Franz Joseph of Austria and Napoleon III of France, the real-life boy was adopted by the Pope, leading to a battle for the boy's heart and mind between the father and the Vatican.

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 is overseeing Edgardo for FilmFour.

Current or upcoming Hopkins productions include Lakeshore and Miramax's The Human Stain, Joel Schumacher's Bad Company and Red Dragon, the latest instalment in the Hannibal Lector series. Bardem became one of Spain's biggest stars with performances in Pedro Almodovar's Live Flesh and Bigas Luna's Jamon Jamon. He is expected to star opposite Juliette Binoche in BBC Films' upcoming production of Assumption Of The Virgin.