Penelope Wilton, Sam Reid, Tom Felton and James Norton have joined the cast of Amma Asante’s Belle, which starts shooting in the UK on Sept 23.
Gugu Mbatha Raw will take the title role, and other confirmed actors are Tom Wilkinson, Miranda Richardson, Matthew Goode, Emily Watson and Sarah Gadon.
CinemaNX will release in the UK and Bankside has presold to Icon in Australia, Benelux Film Distributors in Benelux, Rialto in Switzerland, Shooting Stars in Middle East, Bonton in Czech Republic, and Jaguar for world airline rights.
Damian Jones (The Iron Lady) is producing for his DJ Films. He started developing the project after seeing a 1779 painting of Dido Elizabeth Belle, a mixed-race girl who was raised as an aristocratic lady in England. Her story is told against the backdrop of Lord Mansfield’s 18th century rulings about slavery. Reid [pictured] plays John Davinier, Dido Belle’s love interest.
Jones told Screen: “I thought, ‘what a fascinating world.’ Those Austenesque movies are tried and tested but this has something unique and fresh.”
“The calibre of talent that has attracted itself to it is amazing, it’s a very exciting ensemble,” Jones added.
The film had development support from Chris Collins at the UK Film Council, later the BFI. Belle now is one of the first projects to get production support from the BFI Film Fund after Ben Roberts has taken the reins.
Roberts noted: “Belle promises to be a rich and accessible period drama with a difference; exploring race, class and gender in eighteenth century Britain in a way that will entertain and enlighten audiences.”
The film will shoot for seven weeks in London, Oxford and The Isle of Man and Pinewood Studios. The film will shoot at locations including Kenwood House, Syon House, the Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich, and the Royal Courts of Justice.
Executive producers are Steve Christian, Julie Goldstein, Ivan Dunleavy, Steve Norris, Phil Hunt and Compton Ross.
Backers also include Isle of Man Film, Pinewood Films, Head Gear Films and Metrol Technology.
Jones expects the film to be delivered in late spring. Misan Sagay is the credited writer on the project (both story and screenplay.)
Asante previously directed 2004’s BAFTA-winning A Way of Life.