At a recent ceremony at the Kenyan Embassy in London, producer Simon Channing Williams was awarded the Order of the Grand Warrior. The honour came his way primarily for his efforts in Kenya on behalf of The Constant Gardener Trust, the charity he helped set up after shooting that John Le Carre adaptation in Kenya in 2004.
"I was very proud and honoured," Channing Williams says of his award. He has always been something of a warrior in the UK film business, showing an unusual tenacity in his work as a producer, both with Mike Leigh at Thin Man Films and with Gail Egan at Potboiler Productions.
Preparations are well-advanced for the next Leigh project, yet because of Leigh's typical working style, there is nothing to be said of the film except that it will be delivered in about a year.
Meanwhile, Potboiler recently announced it is working on an adaptation of Le Carre's latest novel The Mission Song, from screenwriter Joe Fisher.
"As Le Carre gets older, there continues to be this wonderful and burning sense of anger about his writing. Dare I say it, he is getting better," Channing Williams says of the author.
Even with the success of The Constant Gardener, landing the rights to the new novel was not a given. Le Carre showed Potboiler an early copy, but there was ferocious competition from some bigger players. "We had to do what we did with The Constant Gardener, which was to put forward a plan that would appeal to him and his advisers and that he felt was sustainable and workable," the producer says.
Channing Williams says The Mission Song will be financed in a similar fashion to The Constant Gardener, with Potboiler "leading from the front" and a budget likely to be around $23m. "We learned an awful lot from Focus on Constant Gardener," he says. "We think that in order to make a profit as an independent, there is no point in trying to look at $40m budgets. We have to be quite canny with the money we will get and make certain that it actually shows on the screen."
The Mission Song is about an idealistic British (but Congo-born) interpreter married to an upper-class white English woman. Again, this is a project likely to shoot at least partly in Africa, although probably not in the Congo.
Potboiler is unusual among UK production outfits in having its own development fund. This enables it to nurture projects in-house without having to sacrifice rights at too early a stage. Potboiler is also developing Ralph Fiennes' directorial debut, Snow Country, a $12m UK-Canadian co-production likely to shoot in Canada later this year. The 1950s-set drama, written by Nicky Rohl, is about a 17-year-old Inuit girl in a convent in northern Canada.
Potboiler is also pushing ahead with another Rohl-scripted project, The Quickening, which Lee Tamahori will direct. Casting is getting underway and the film is likely to shoot in 2008.