Currently shooting in Malta, The Devil’s Double tells the story of Saddam Hussein’s son Uday and his body-double Latif Yahia.

“This is a gangster movie, really,” says director Lee Tamahori, who wraps the film on April 10. “The story we’re telling is one of criminals operating with unbelievable amounts of money and grandeur and opulence and doing whatever the hell they like and getting away with it. And it’s also the story of an innocent, being thrust into it and forced – upon pain of death or the death of his entire family – to do something that he’d rather not do.”

Written by Michael Thomas (Backbeat) the action drama pulls no punches in its depiction of the brutality and debauchery that surrounded Uday, Saddam’s eldest son who was killed by US troops in 2003. “Even organised criminals have police that will chase them down. That wasn’t the case – this man could absolutely do whatever he wanted,” says Paul Breuls, producer of the film with Michael John Fedun, Catherine Vandeleene and Emjay Rechsteiner. Harris Tulchin is executive producer.

Power and corruption is central to the film, says Breuls. “All the rest – Saddam, his party and the war – it’s just a backdrop.”

Set in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the film stars Dominic Cooper as both Uday and his body-double. “He’s an unbelievably gifted actor,” Tamahori says of Cooper. “He’s just transformed himself into the son of Saddam Hussein – he looks hallucinatingly accurate.” The dual roles are a challenge, says Tamahori, but Cooper is “physically and mentally up for it, and he’s young and energetic.”

Ludivine Sagnier is playing Uday’s concubine in the film, based on the books by Yahia.

The $15m film is produced by Breuls’ Antwerp-based outfit Corsan. The company financed 50% of The Devil’s Double through its tax fund – set up under Belgium’s tax shelter system for corporate investors from the territory – with the remainder from Corsan and its equity partners. The Devil’s Double is the fifth film produced by Corsan under this model, with Roland Joffe’s Singularity set to shoot in India this summer. The company’s sales arm, Corsan World Sales, debuted The Devil’s Double at Berlin.

The production scouted locations in Jordan, Tunisia and Morocco before opting for Malta, which offers an incentive of up to 22% of eligible expenditure to be obtained as a cash rebate. “The Malta [incentive] is tried and trusted and solid, and it’s the EU and it’s Euro-driven and it’s very established,” Breuls explains. “And then you marry it to the fact Malta has a good infrastructure, that it has experienced crews.”

The Devil’s Double is largely using locations on the island, with a couple of weeks on stages built by the production in a rented warehouse. There will also be CG work to create the Baghdad palaces. Tamahori is shooting on the RED HD camera. “I’m very much a convert to new digital formats,” the director says. “I’ve shot commercials on the RED. I haven’t shot a feature on it but I like it a lot.”