The book, by Canadian author Robert Hough, is set in the the world of a tiger trainer during the 1920s heyday of the Ringling Brothers Circus.
The option was previously held by another London-based production company, Tailor-Made Films, with the working title, The Marvelous Mabel Stark, at which point Kate Winslet was attached to play the role of Stark and co-produce. Winslet and Mendes married in 2003 and this film could mark their first onscreen collaboration.
Italian screenwriter Francesca Marciano has signed to adapt the novel for Neal Street. Marciano's previous screen credit, La Bestia Nel Cuore (aka Don't Tell), was in competition at Venice in 2005 and nominated for best-foreign language feature at the Academy Awards in 2006. Mendes is apparently waiting for delivery of the script before deciding whether to direct the project or produce along side his Neal Street partner Pippa Harris.
Published in 2002, Hough's book is a fictionalised biography of a woman who earned a place in circus lore for handling more tigers in a cage than any trainer in history. The real Mabel Stark, who died in 1968, was married six times; one of those husbands was mauled by her favourite tiger.