Frost/Nixon star to be joined by Andrew Scott and Kelly Macdonald in a biopic of the 1920s British mountaineer.

Michael Sheen

Michael Sheen has signed on to play British climber George Mallory in upcoming biopic In High Places, billed as the first film to tell the full story of the tragic 1920s mountaineer.

Kelly Macdonald (Boardwalk Empire) is attached to play Mallory’s wife, Ruth, while Andrew Scott, best known for playing the villainous Moriarty in BBC drama series Sherlock, will play his friend and fellow climber Noel Odell.

Writer/director James McEachen is due to begin shooting this September. Locations include South Tyrol, India, London and Cologne.

Mallory took part in the first three British expeditions to Mount Everest in the early 1920s.

During the 1924 expedition, Mallory and his climbing partner Andrew “Sandy” Irvine both disappeared. They were last seen when they were about 800 feet from the summit. Mallory’s body was discovered in 1999.

Mallory fascination

McEachen, who came up through the ranks of commercial and feature production as a gaffer and cinematographer while working with industry notables such as David Fincher and John McTiernan, has himself been on Himalayan mountaineering expeditions.

“I have been fascinated by George Mallory for as long as I can remember,” said McEachen. “That led directly to my own Himalayan climbs in the 90’s, including leading an expedition to 27,766 foot Makalu in 1992.

“It was this direct experience that gave me a deep-seated respect for the bold imagination and war-hardened bravery that Mallory and his companions displayed in their quest for the summit of Everest - long before the age of Gore-Tex and titanium.”

McEachen said In High Places was “an epic story about the uncompromising nature of character and the sometimes overwhelming power of dreams”.

The filmmaker recently completed his first feature documentary, The Leopard in the Land, which premiered at the Wild & Scenic Film Festival in Nevada City in January.

Indie budget

The UK-German co-production is a collaboration between London-based Wind Fish Motion Pictures and Cologne based Medienparks NRW.

Producers are Juliusz Kossakowski and Kevan Van Thompson, and Thierry Potok.

Kossakowski said: “We had to figure out how to tackle the demands of a movie of such an epic scale based on a limited indie budget.

“We’ve scouted Nepal, India, New Zealand, Iceland, and the Italian Alps until we were able to put together a strategy that will deliver the historical authenticity and breath taking experience of the locations for a fraction that of a studio production.”

David Nichols in Italy and Tabrez Noorani in India are providing production services.

The film is being financed through a combination of private equity, German, Italian, and UK tax credits, tax rebates and soft monies, and pre sales.

Sheen, currently starring in Showtime series Masters of Sex, will next be seen in Far From the Madding Crowd and Oppenheimer Strategies.

Scott’s next projects include Victor Frankenstein and new James Bond film Spectre.

Sheen is managed by Tammy Rosen of Sanders, Armstrong, Caserta and represented by Roxanne Vacca Management and ICM, Scott by United Agents and ICM, and Macdonald by Independent Talent Group and ICM. 

The Summit

A Mallory film was in the works at Sony in 2013 to be directed by Doug Liman, originally titled Everest and later renamed The Summit set to star Tom Hardy, but news of that production has gone quiet.

In the meantime, Baltasar Kormakur has directed Everest, a modern take on a climbing expedition of the world’s highest peak for Working Title and Universal, starring Jake Gyllenhaal and set for release later this year.