Maverick British producer Stephen Woolley is planning a big screen version of Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations.

It will be the second major literary adaptation, after Rowan Joffe’s Brighton Rock, to be supported by Optimum Releasing as the distributor seeks to become a major player in UK production. The film, which is also receiving backing from the UK Film Council, is being scripted by David Nicholls and is slated to shoot next year.

Woolley, a co-founder of Number 9 Films whose credits include Interview With A Vampire, brought the project to Optimum. He is promising a dark and Gothic version of the Dickens classic that will have elements of “suspense and terror”. The book has already been developed for the big screen several times, most notably by David Lean, whose 1946 adaptation starred John Mills and Alec Guinness.

Woolley will produce Great Expectations alongside Elizabeth Karlsen, the co-founder of Number 9 Films.

Great Expectations is one of a number of projects on Optimum’s development slate. The company is also pushing ahead with Where Rainbows End, a romantic comedy based on the novel by Irish writer Cecilia Ahern, author of P.S. I Love You.

Showing its appetite for international fare, Optimum is also aboard Johannesburg-based thriller Ponte Tower although British director Danny Boyle is no longer attached to the project. A replacement has yet to be announced.

The film, which also has UK Film Council support, was brought to Optimum by Sprout, the film and TV production company run by Stephen Fry and Gina Carter. Michael Thomas has completed the screenplay and it is due to start shooting next spring. It is likely to be shot under the UK-South Africa co-production treaty.

Meanwhile, Optimum has also confirmed that it has picked up romantic comedy Leap Year from Spyglass.