By Bill Jacobs in the Lancashire Evening Telegraph
AL Pacino, Alan Rickman or Steve Coogan the Westminster guessing game has begun over who will play Foreign Secretary Jack Straw in a new film.
Blackburn producer and director Michael Winterbottom is planning to bring former ambassador to Uzbekistan Craig Murray’s story to cinema screens next year. And it will give further exposure to Mr Murray’s claims that he was dismissed by the Blackburn MP for criticising British policy in the former Soviet Republic.
Already Steve Coogan, who played Alan Partridge in Knowing Me, Knowing You, on BBC 2 is pencilled in to play the hapless diplomat who claims the Government ignored human rights abuses. And Mr Winterbottom said: “I think Alan Partridge could play both characters, emphasising they’re both sides of the same coin.”
Mr Murray, who stood against Mr Straw in Blackburn at the last general election, had a slightly more mischievous suggestion Alan Rickman, who immortalised the evil Professor Snape in the Harry Potter films. Mr Straw himself, clearly torn between embarrass-ment over the revelations in Mr Murray’s book and shyness at the prospect of movie stardom, would only say: “No comment”.
However, his East Lancashire MP colleagues had their own suggestions.
Mr Winterbottom has a long pedigree of directing controversial films including The Road to Guantanamo, about the treatment of British detainees in the US Camp Delta prison in Cuba and A Cock and Bull Story, the sexually explicit Nine Songs and 24-Hour Party People about Tony Wilson and Factory Records.
He said he was excited at the prospect of directing Mr Murray’s “Murder in Samarkand”, an account of his two years as ambassador to Uzbekistan, to which he has already bought the film rights. The book, due out in June despite strongest efforts by Mr Straw and the Foreign Office to block it, is described as “an incredible true story, espionage, torture, high politics, sex and murder”.
Government officials are set to take legal action to stop both the book and the film claiming they are misleading and incorrect and the criticism of colleagues as “unfair and unwarranted”. Mr Winterbottom said: “This is a splendid story and I am really looking forward to filming it. We have got the rights already and I hope to do it some time next year.”
Mr Murray, 47, said: “I don’t come across as a hero. I’m an ordinary fallible guy who could not go along with what the govern-ment was doing.” He said he had already met Mr Coogan, who was interested in the film, which was confirmed by Mr Winterbottom.
Ribble Valley Tory Nigel Evans said: “I would like Al Pacino to play Jack he has the sort of “Don’t mess with me” aura that the Foreign Secretary has acquired.”
Pendle Labour MP Gordon Prentice said: “Derek Jacobi would be ideal. Jack is a man of many parts and it would take a consummate actor like Jacobi to do him justice.”
Hyndburn Labour MP Greg Pope said: “I would like Bill Nighy to take the role. He would be perfect.”
A Foreign Office spokeswoman said discussions were going on with Mr Murray and they had made it clear it was not right to publish the book and it was “a betrayal of trust”. The Foreign Office claimed that Mr Murray’s dismissal came because he was suffering from personal problems not from his outspoken comments.