The distributor has made a pre-emptive swoop on North American, Latin American and Eastern European rights. Focus Features International handles the rest of the world and introduced the Mike Leigh project at the EFM last month.

Untitled Mike Leigh 13 will star the film-maker’s occasional collaborator Timothy Spall as the renowned British artist JMW Turner. Leigh has planned the film for over a decade and is finally ready to commence principal photography this spring for a 2014 release.

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Georgina Lowe produces and Gail Egan serves as executive producer. Production partners include Film4, British Film Institute, Focus Features International, LipSync and Xofa Productions.

The National Gallery, Tate Britain and the Royal Academy have granted special access to some of Turner’s original works.

“Turner as a character is compelling,” said Leigh in a statement. “I want to explore the man, his working life, his relationships and how he lived. But what fascinates me most is the drama that lies in the tension between this driven eccentric and the epic, timeless world he evoked in his masterpieces.

“I also see rich tragic-comic potential in his often turbulent relationship with the English art establishment, especially in his later years, when his increasingly radical work was misunderstood and derided.”

“We are convinced Mike Leigh and JMW Turner are a match made in movie heaven,” said SPC. “We are so pleased to be in partnership with Mike and his producers with a story that promises to be his best film ever.”

Leigh added: “After our successful collaboration on Another Year, it is great to be reunited with Sony Pictures Classics.”