I have been keeping this confidential, but now it has come out in the Sunday Telegraph’s Mandrake column, apparently sourced to David Hare.
Hare given farcical cut
There has always been a thin line between comedy and tragedy, but, as Sir David Hare knows only too well, it can sometimes become a little too blurred for comfort.
The playwright wrote a screenplay for a film about Craig Murray, the renegade former ambassador to Uzbekistan who was subjected to a Government-inspired campaign of vilification after he spoke out about British foreign policy in the region.
Hare saw it as an essentially tragic tale and wrote a completely serious script, but it swiftly became clear that the film’s director, Michael Winterbottom, did not share his vision. He wanted to turn it into a farce, starring his old chum Steve Coogan.
“Michael was horrified by what I came up with,” the dramatist tells Mandrake. “It was decided that the studio should choose. They chose Michael’s idea and I was sacked. I didn’t lose my respect for Michael, but I did walk away with bitterness. I had wasted six months of my life.”
In the past, Hare’s rocky relationships with collaborators have at least resulted in generous compensation packages. He says that when he complained to Louis Malle about Jeremy Irons’s refusal to stick to his script for Damage, the French director paid him ‘10,000 in compensation.
I have never seen the Hare script, which is the property of Paramount. David Hare certainly put a very great deal of work into it, interviewing all the key participants and even travelling out to Uzbekistan, pretending to be a tourist (as did Michael Winterbottom). When Hare finished the script he told me that he was “Thrilled” by it, and felt it was one of the finest things he had ever done.
It does seem astonishing that a major mature work by such a considerable figure as David Hare could be simply abandoned to rot on a Hollywood shelf. I was told that one of the objections to the script was that it was too “stagey” and interior bound. That led me to wonder if it could be produced eventually as a play. But it belongs to Paramount, who whould have to be convinced it was in their interest. David Hare meanwhile is in a pretty bad mood about the entire thing. That is probably an idea to return to in a few years’ time.
Meanwhile, Michael Winterbottom has produced a detailed “Treatment”, which will now form the basis of the film. I am delighted with it. Murder in Samarkand does indeed contain a good deal of quirky humour, and it is important that this vital element is retained. But that does not make it a “farce”. The humour counterpoints the tragedy and the message; which are all still there. The whole point of the book is that it can make you both laugh and cry. Only the key episodes of dialogue are fixed to date, but they are mostly lifted verbatim from the book. I think both Winterbottom and Coogan are well capable of that in the film. Their collaboration on 24 Hour Party People showed something of the potential.
Meanwhile, my next worry is how Paramount will react to the very poor US box office of A Mighty Heart. The reviews have been extremely good, with Angelina Jolie tipped by all major critics as an Oscar contender for her portrayal of Marianne Pearl. But the hard truth is that on a summer’s evening it appears not many people want to go to the cinema and watch a film about a man who dies an appalling, squalid death.
Given that this is exactly the same team as will be making our film, will Paramount’s enthusiasm for the project have waned? I am confident that this project is very commercial, and will produce a very enjoyable as well as thought-provoking film. I do hope they still see it that way.
Michael Winterbottom is very keen on authenticity. Filming is therefore currently scheduled for February to June 2008, to give the full range of extreme continental weather conditions which play a major part in the book.