Volker Schloendorff's upcoming production of Pope Joan is heading for a clash with a rival TV project, it emerged last week.

Schloendorff is adapting US novelist Donna Woolfolk Cross' book about a woman who disguised herself as a man and sat on the papal throne for two years in the 9th century. But at a wide-ranging discussion in Berlin about Schloendorff's project it was revealed that Munich-based Tandem Communications is also working on the same idea as a TV mini-series.

Cross is understood to be backing the Schloendorff version. "Anyone can write about her, she's public domain", said Cross. "But what no one can do is to take parts of my novel, from my imagination."

Schloendorff, attending the discussion with UK scriptwriter Michael Hirst (Elizabeth) and producer Norbert Sauer, aims to start production next year.

"I had promised myself no more literary masterpieces, but this is real storytelling," said the veteran director. "It starts with a strong character, about how a gifted child had a thirst for knowledge. My first aim is to portray the passion of the main character rather than show a wide fresco of the time."