The creative force behind the Shrek and Chronicles Of Narnia franchises will direct his first indie feature based on the bestseller by New Zealand author Lloyd Jones.

Focus Features International has bulked up a prestige slate that already includes Cloud Atlas and will handle international sales. Transmission Films and Paramount will distribute in New Zealand and Australia, while UTA’s independent film group represents North American rights.

Production is set to begin next month in New Zealand and on the tiny island of Bougainville, Papua New Guinea, where the story takes place. Mister Pip tells of the last white man on the strife-torn island who reopens a school and inspires a 14-year-old girl with a reading of  Great Expectations. Laurie will be familiar to millions as the lead in the small-screen smash House.

Olympus Pictures’ Leslie Urdang and Dean Vanech, hot off a successful 2011 with Rabbit Hole and Beginners, have teamed up with Robin Scholes’ Eyeworks New Zealand and Agio Capital to co-finance. The New Zealand Film Commission, NZ On Air and New Zealand Television Network TV3 are also investing in the project. 

Adamson, Scholes, Urdang and Vanech will produce and James Dean of Agio Capital will serve as executive producer alongside Daniel Revers of Deer Path Productions, Julie Christie, Tim White and Tim Coddington.

UTA’s Rena Ronson negotiated the deal with Urdang and Alison Thompson negotiated on behalf of Focus Features International. UTA’s independent film group packaged the project and assisted in arranging the financing and the agency also represents Adamson.