Sydney Pollack and Anthony Minghella's Mirage Enterprises is battling to save Assumption Of The Virgin, one of the highest-profile UK productions on the market, after being forced to shelve plans to start production in March.

The Benicio Del Toro-Juliette Binoche drama, which Mirage developed with BBC Films and Intermedia, first hit trouble this month when director Walter Salles pulled out after delays meant the production was set to clash with his Che Guevara project, Motorcycle Diaries. In the absence of replacement, the production has had to cancel a March 4 start date at Rome's Cinecitta Studios.

While some close to the production have now given up on it ever happening, David Rubin, a producer for Mirage, insisted that the project could be revived. "We are aggressively trying to set it up with another director as soon as possible," he said.

Adding to the uncertainty, the director change will entail Intermedia and the BBC having to re-negotiate with international distribution partners such as Icon, which had agreed to take UK and Australian rights when Salles was attached.

Rubin said that Del Toro and Binoche were still attached - the two actors are the only cast members to have signed, although the likes of Geoffrey Rush and Chloe Sevigny have also been reported as involved. DreamWorks still has North American rights.

Pollack has considered stepping in as director, but such a move is still far from certain. Rubin ruled out Minghella taking up directing duties. Although he wrote the script with Leigh Jackson, the director of The English Patient and The Talented Mr Ripley is shooting Cold Mountain in June with Tom Cruise.

Assumption, the story of a nun lured away from her convent by the Renaissance painter Fra Lippi, has already been delayed from shooting this year when Del Toro broke his wrist shooting The Hunted. Rubin denied that Salles had left after clashing with Del Toro, saying that a second delay from January to March forced the director to bow out if he was to direct his long-cherished Motorcycle Diaries.