Fast rising British actor Tom Hardy is to star as Elizabethan playwright - and spy, occultist and sexually-ambiguous free thinker - Christopher Marlowe.

Hardy, a graduate of the young ensemble casts of Band Of Brothers and Black Hawk Down, is donning the doublet for UK producer Andy Paterson, who is currently riding high after another period piece set amongst the arts, Vermeer drama Girl With A Pearl Earring.

Director Julien Temple is to start production next month, with Rosamund Pike of Die Another Day fame playing Penelope, reputedly the most beautiful woman in Christendom and the cause of the first traffic jam when she appeared in her carriage. The script is by Frank Cottrell Boyce, Paterson's partner in Archer Street Productions.

Paterson is repeating the Pearl Earring production formula, shooting in Luxembourg with producing partner Jimmy de Brabant and using a combination of tax-based financing from the duchy and the UK.

Described by Paterson as a noir thriller, the as-yet untitled film has beaten a clutch of rivals into production. Jude Law, Johnny Depp and Rufus Sewell have all been wooed by other projects to play the man dubbed an Elizabethan James Dean.

"Marlowe was a cobbler's son who rose through society so there was a class separation," says Paterson. "He has to have charisma and be from the street but there is a danger that someone that precocious can slide into smugness. Tom doesn't, he has an edge of danger."

See this week's Screen International for full story.