Warner Bros has finalised a deal to develop and produce Ecosse Films' feature adaptation of Brideshead Revisited, the celebrated Evelyn Waugh novel which the hit TV series turned into the quintessential British heritage production.
Writer Andrew Davies said he has a "darker", "more heterosexual" take on Waugh's novel than Granada's series, whose dreaming spires of Oxford University and effete upper-class Englishmen helped set the white flannel tone for Chariots Of Fire and Merchant Ivory.
Instead of Charles Ryder and Sebastian Flyte's relationship, Davies, the leading writer of TV costume drama in the UK, has focused on the doomed love affair between Charles and Julia Flyte. His script explores how Catholicism destroys their relationship and their families.
"I'm much less enamoured of all that Oxford snobbery than some people," said Davies, whose feature credits include Bridget Jones's Diary and The Tailor Of Panama. "It's written from the point of view of someone who does not believe in the religious themes as Evelyn Waugh did. If God can be said to exist in my version, he would be the villain."
Ecosse, the production company behind period pieces Mrs Brown and the Warner co-financed Charlotte Gray, is also aiming for a fresh take. Ecosse chief Douglas Rae will "cast the net wide" for directors when Davies delivers his draft in two weeks.
"I love what Ang Lee did with Sense And Sensibility or how Polanski handled Tess," he said.
Warner senior vp production Lionel Wigram, who worked closely with Ecosse on Charlotte Gray, headed talks for the studio on Brideshead. Warner has first option to distribute the film worldwide, with Rae aiming to start shooting next year on a budget of around $25m, depending on the cast.
"This deal represents a great coup for us," Rae said. "This will help not only to have the movie properly funded but also marketed and distributed throughout the world.
Waugh is making a something of a splash in Cannes this year - Stephen Fry's Bright Young Things, adapted from Waugh's book Vile Bodies, is amongst the hottest properties on the Croisette.