Dutch director Sacha Polak has revealed further details of her first English-language project, Vita and Virginia.

The film, based on the play by Eileen Atkins, tells the story of the passionate love affair between writers Virginia Woolf and Vita Sackville-West. Both women were members of the free thinking Bloomsbury set but their lesbian affair scandalised parts of British society. Sackville-West was married to the celebrated politician and diarist, Harold Nicholson. 

Romola Garai has come on board to play Sackville-West. 

“She (Garai) is so interesting and sexy. She will be the perfect Vita,” said Polak, who was at this year’s Berlinale with new film Zurich, sold by Beta.

The part of Woolf will be cast shortly. Polak insists that her film’s Woolf won’t be the “gloomy” and “depressing” figure with the prosthetic nose played by Nicole Kidman in The Hours.

“We are keen on showing another Virginia Woolf, a funny one and one that was really lively.”

The period biopic, recently presented at the Rotterdam coproduction market CineMart, is being produced by Evangelo Kioussis and Bill Shepherd through London-based Mirror Productions. The hope is to shoot in the early autumn.

A final draft of the screenplay is currently being polished and sales agent is expected to be announced shortly. The producers came to Polak after seeing her feature, Hemel.

Polak has been researching the project intensively: “For the last year, I have been reading and reading and reading, because everybody in the Bloomsbury group has either written a book or there have been diaries published by them.”

The aim is to shoot in the actual locations including Sissinghurst, where Sackville-West helped create a famous garden.

Polak is the second Dutch director to have tackled a Virginia Woolf-themed feature, following on from Marleen Gorris who directed a version of Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway (1997) starring Vanessa Redgrave.

“I think it is really good that - for this project - I am an outsider and I can look on it in a fresh way,” said Polak.

“I have the feeling that in England, everybody has a strong opinion about Virginia Woolf. Either they love her of they think that the best thing she ever did was commit suicide. I am learning every day to love her more and to be more intrigued by her.

“This story has not been told yet. I think it is a really powerful love story with danger in it. You have people that burn and people that get burned.”

Woolf drowned herself in 1941. Sackville-West died in 1962.