New Line Cinema has acquired North American rights to MikeLeigh's latest film Vera Drake for apurported price tag of well over $2m. The deal was personally initiated by NewLine co-chairman and co-CEO Michael Lynne himself with the Leigh camp.

It is not yet clear whether the film will be released byNew Line or its specialised division Fine Line which has notacquired a film since Cherish atSundance 2002. Fine Line had previously handled Leigh's Naked in 1993 on which it grossed $1.7m.

Despite rumoursthat its inclusion in the festival is far from guaranteed, Vera Drake is still expected to snare a competitionslot in next month's Cannes Film Festival. It features what early viewers arecalling a bravura performance from Imelda Staunton as a housekeeper who helps women induce miscarriages of unwanted pregnancies in 1950s London.

Jim Broadbent (Topsy-Turvy,Life Is Sweet), PhilDavis (High Hopes, Secrets And Lies), Heather Craney (All Or Nothing, Topsy-Turvy), Alex Kelly (All Or Nothing) and Daniel Mays (All Or Nothing) are among the Leigh veterans in thecast, while Staunton and Adrian Scarborough are newcomers to the director'swork.

As always, SimonChanning-Williams is the producer, while Gail Egin, Robert Jones, Duncan Reidand Alain Sarde are executive producers. Financing came from the UK FilmCouncil, Ingenious Media and StudioCanal. StudioCanal's John Kochman completedthe deal with New Line's senior vice president of business and legal affairsCarolyn Blackwood.

"Mike Leigh has created a magnificent catalogue of thought-provoking films which have resonated with audiences and critics all over the world," said Lynne in a statement. "Our previous relationship with Mike on his award-winning film Naked broke many unspoken boundaries and New Line was proud to be a part of its success. I believe that Vera Drake continues to put Mike Leigh at the forefront of our greatest filmmakers, contains a groundbreaking performance by Imelda Staunton and raises critically relevant issues in an emotionally involving family situation."

Leigh has workedon US distribution of his last few films with Bingham Ray who scored All OrNothing as a UA pick-upfollowing an association when he ran October Films that encompassed SecretsAnd Lies (1996), CareerGirls (1997), Topsy-Turvy (1999) and Life Is Sweet (1991). Naked was the only film in Leigh's recentcanon which was not distributed by Ray.

Fine Line hasbeen in a state of transition in the last couple of years with company president MarkOrdesky recently promoted into a senior production role at New Line, andin-house productions such as The Sleeping Dictionary and Ripley's Game going straight to pay-TV and video. Thedivision's chief distribution activity has been teaming up with HBO Films toco-release its productions such as Oscar-nominated American Splendor, last year's Palme d'Or winner Elephant and the upcoming Maria Full Of Grace.

Fine Line isalso the production entity on John Waters' A Dirty Shame and on Jonathan Glazer's Birth which are scheduled for release thisyear.

MomentumPictures is close to sealing UK rights to Vera Drake, meaning that Momentum parent AllianceAtlantis has rights in both Canada and the UK since Alliance Atlantis handlesNew Line product in Canada.