The Film


Michael Winterbottom Can’t Take The Pace 9

I have no idea what he’s talking about. I was only just warming up. Good job he never worked with Oliver Reed…

Winterbottom seems chipper, given that two projects have recently collapsed. One was A Beautiful Game, about gangs in Manchester. The other was Murder in Samarkand, based on the memoirs of the former British ambassador to Uzbekistan, Craig Murray, who accused Tony Blair’s Government of connivance in torture. The director rattles through a long explanation involving difficult locations, some creative differences with the screenwriter, David Hare, the pitfalls of making a black comedy about torture and, not least, the phenomenal amount of vodka he and Eaton had to absorb on their reconnaissance trips. “We were drunk the whole time. We thought, ‘Our bodies can’t take this any more. Three months of it and we’ll be dead’.”

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/film/filmmakersonfilm/5060994/Michael-Winterbottom-interview-on-his-film-Genova.html

So now the name on the Director’s chair has been changed to Julien Temple. If he could work with Johnny Rotten and Sid Vicious…

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In Development Hell 30

Steve Coogan has just described the position of the film of Murder in Samarkand as “Stuck in development hell”.

http://www.filmschoolrejects.com/news/scoop-murder-in-samarkand-stuck-in-development-hell.php

Actually it is probably worse than that. Meantime, with no income from the putative film and my discovering just how near impossible it is to publish a book yourself and get bookshops to take it, my lack of funds is becoming positively terrifying, with a new baby due to arrive shortly. Do you know those moments when you feel like a checkmated king, with nothing to do but fall over?

Anyway, I shall boost my almost vanished store of feelings of self-worth by exhibiting some erudition you probably don’t know. Checkmate has nothing to do with the board being chequered, unless the word chequered comes from the game. Chess originated in Central Asia. Russian for chess is “Shakhmati” (normally in Cyrillic) which is perfectly straightforward everyday Uzbek meaning “The King is stuck”. Shakh of course being the same word as sheikh in other Muslim cultures.

So now I feel poorer than you yet in an obscure way slightly superior. But sadly still checkmated.

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Nadira’s Story 6

Good interview with Nadira in the Sunday Times today. It is brilliant that she now gets to tell her own story, and it certainly opens up a huge raft of questions.

Apparently there are some great photos in the newspaper, which they haven’t put on the net.

From The Sunday TimesDecember 9, 2007

Ambassador’s belly dancer stages her life

The theatre show recounts Nadira Alieva’s life as a child drug runner and how she was raped twice

Christina Lamb

THE belly-dancing mistress of Britain’s controversial former ambassador to Uzbekistan is to perform her life story on the London stage in an attempt to change her image.

The British Ambassador’s Belly Dancer, which opens in January at the Arcola theatre in Hackney, tells the story of Nadira Alieva, the Uzbek dancer who captured the heart of Craig Murray, causing him to leave his wife and two children.

But instead of the comfortable life in the West he promised, she became the target of a smear campaign started after Murray criticised the British government for using intelligence obtained by torture in Uzbekistan.

“The government was using me as a cheap way of discrediting Craig,” she said. “I was described as a bimbo, a prostitute, ‘stupidly beautiful’ by journalists. In fact I have a degree. I was supporting my family.”

Not only was the relationship between the 22-year-old dancer and portly 48-year-old diplomat splashed across the tabloids but Murray lost his job and the couple ended up in a cramped rented flat in Shepherd’s Bush. So poor were they that Alieva started lap-dancing at Spearmint Rhino in London’s Tottenham Court Road, a haunt for City traders entertaining clients.

Now 26, she was a bundle of excitement as she opened the door to the flat where she and Murray have lived for three years. The tiny living room was a jumble of books on world affairs and Britney Spears CDs, and the sofas were old. “It’s not like an ambassador’s residence,” she shrugged. “Sometimes I say to Craig, ‘You should have just kept quiet.’ He would have been ambassador in Denmark.”

In the small sitting room are framed certificates for drama courses he paid for her to take. These gave Alieva the confidence to tell her side of the story through a one-woman show with voiceovers from Murray. It’s a story that opens a window onto one of the most repressive regimes in central Asia, recounting her life as a child drug runner and the two rapes that she endured, and culminating with her dancing in a nightclub in Tashkent when Murray walked in.

With her lithe body and exotic looks emphasised by long-laced leather boots, trilby and wide toothy smile, it is easy to see what attracted him. “Her body invited sex while her eyes screamed ‘save me’,” he later wrote.

Alieva is equally candid about what she saw in him. “All us girls in the club hoped to marry foreigners and escape,” she said.

Her story starts in a small town called Djizzak near Samarkand. Her parents were actors and often out of work. “We weren’t just hungry but starving,” she recalled. The little money the children earned from collecting plastic bottles for recycling or hawking chocolate in the streets was not enough and her father sank into depression. From vodka he moved onto heroin.

“One day he would be happy, saying the world is beautiful; the next he would turn into a monster and beat us,” she said. At the age of 11 she was his heroin mule. “We would travel to a village near the border with Afghanistan where Afghans would bring opium in exchange for food. Because I was a little girl the police wouldn’t check me.”

At 15, Alieva nearly killed herself one night but her seven-year-old brother talked her out of it. “That night I made a deal with God,” said Alieva. “Make me someone, take me out of this place, then I will believe in your existence.” Shortly afterwards she astonished everyone by getting into Tashkent University on a scholarship to study English, the only person from her town to do so. On graduating she began working as an English teacher but her £8-a-month salary barely covered the rent.

Instead she got a job as secretary to a man who ran two petrol stations but who, at the end of the second week, raped her.

She quit. But the money she scraped tutoring English and cleaning was not enough. One day her brother fainted. When she took him to the doctor, they were told he was suffering malnutrition. The next day she was walking past a nightclub and saw an advert saying “dancers needed”. “It was basically a brothel,” she said. But she was earning £150 a month.

Then, one April night in 2003, Murray walked in. “It was my turn to dance and I could see this man, very English-looking, with a half-smile, looking at me,” she said. “He wasn’t sporty-looking or handsome and I wasn’t interested. I just wanted my tip. But the manager said you mustn’t refuse him, he’s the richest man in the place.”

After chatting for a while, Murray suggested that she quit the club and become his mistress. “I told him, ‘You’re not the first to offer’, and I left.” The next time Murray returned to the club, it was Alieva’s day off so he gave another girl £50 for her phone number. Flattered, she agreed to a date. Although she knew Murray was married, they were soon an item. “I’d gone out with diplomats before but Craig was different,” she said. “He’d take me to official dinners and parties and introduce me to people. People were shocked as they knew I was a dancer but he didn’t care.”

But after they had been seeing each other for four months, he went to London with his wife and did not return. “I’d started to feel something for him because of his generosity and gentleness, then, voom, he disappeared,” said Alieva. “Five months without a word. I thought, right, that’s it with men.”

In fact Murray was defending himself against allegations of corruption, alcoholism and exchanging visas for sex, part of a dirty-tricks campaign prompted by a speech he had made the previous year in which he had condemned the systematic use of torture in Uzbek prisons, highlighting a case of two men being boiled to death. So stressed was he that he ended up in a psychiatric ward.

While Murray was away, Alieva was raped again, by an off-duty policeman. Finally, in January 2004, Murray returned. He told Alieva that he had left his wife and wanted to marry her. “My heart was cold,” she said. “But he was alone in the residence and he was unwell so I felt sorry and moved in.”

They had lived together for four months when they came to England on holiday and Murray was suspended and then diagnosed with a heart complaint and given six months to live. Unbeknown to Murray, she decided to dance again to support him and ended up at Spearmint Rhino.

“It was awful,” she said. “They expect you to strip naked for £20. I got more than that in Uzbekistan for wearing a bikini.

And I had to pay the club £80 a night to dance.”

Murray became suspicious at her late-night disappearances and looked at websites she had used. “He stormed into the club to see me flirting with a man and said, ‘Dance for me, I’ll pay you’,” she said. “He’d borrowed money from a friend. He paid the £80 so I could go home. It was the first time I saw his tears.”

Alieva told him he had been so busy with his problems he had neglected her. So when he was cleared by the Foreign Office and given a £250,000 payoff, he paid for her to study drama at Rose Bruford college, in Kent, from which she graduated in July, then for summer courses in Shakespeare and Restoration theatre.

It was discovered Murray’s heart complaint had been misdiagnosed and he was not about to die. After a failed run for parliament in 2005, today Murray scrapes a living giving speeches. He is now in Ghana trying to set up a deal selling electricity.

His account was published in his book Murder in Samarkand. But his self-confessed whisky-loving womanising ways undermine what was supposed to be an expose of the brutal dictatorship of Islam Karimov and Anglo-American collusion. The book is being turned into a movie with Murray played by Steve Coogan. There is talk of Alieva being played by Angelina Jolie. But for the time being she has her own story to tell.

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/article3022489.ece

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The British Ambassador’s Belly Dancer, Arcola Theatre, 8 January to 2 February 2

bd.jpg

Nadira will be performing in a one woman show to tell her extraordinary and often very harrowing story. This is entirely her point of view, and her perspective is often very different to mine. She reveals some things about me I would perhaps not have voluntered myself, but then that’s freedom of speech! She is now deep in rehearsals, and I really do think this will be an extraordinary theatrical experience.

In 2004 Craig Murray, then British Ambassador for Uzbekistan, made two life changing decisions: he spoke out against the U.K Government using intelligence gained under torture by states such as Uzbekistan and he left his wife and children for a belly dancer he’d met in a nightclub in Tashkent. The first led to Murray being suspended from service and lauded as a hero by many for his continued fight against human rights abuses and in particular Western moral hypocrisy. The second was used to undermine his credibility by his detractors in the media.

This is the extraordinary true story of the life of Craig’s mistress Nadira, dismissed in the British press as a dumb bimbo, she fought tooth and nail to survive in a undemocratic, misogynist regime that practices systematic torture on its citizens. Raped twice, and scraping a living by working as a teacher, drugs runner and belly dancer, Nadira has now completed a foundation course in acting at Rose Bruford and graduated last summer from the Drama Studio. With the help of partner Craig she wishes to tell of her own journey from the slums to the Ambassadorial palace of Uzbekistan and finally a rented flat in Shepherd’s Bush

To book tickets:

http://www.londontheatre.co.uk/londontheatre/whatson/oa-f.htm

There is a facebook group here:

http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=24806760009

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Murder In Samarkand “Celebrated” – Official! 1

Wow! Murder in Samarkand has graduated to be a “celebrated memoir”, according to the Guardian. Well, I certainly celebrated it, anyway.

In This World also gave Winterbottom a cause. He’s returned to it twice since then – with Road to Guant’namo and A Mighty Heart – and is planning a fourth: an adaptation of former diplomat Craig Murray’s celebrated memoir, Murder in Samarkand. But Winterbottom denies he has any special affinity for reactive, issue-based film-making. “Generally speaking, things we’ve done have been things we just thought were good ideas. We go through phases, obviously. Not all good. When we were doing Mighty Heart, we were driving through Pakistan and it felt kind of similar to In This World. This is when you have moments thinking: we’ve done this before so why are we doing this? What’s the point of doing this again?”

http://arts.guardian.co.uk/filmandmusic/story/0,,2168097,00.html

It is in fact a fascinating interview, well worth reading quite aside from my brief mention.

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“Recklessly Truthful” and “Heroically Flawed”? 4

A long interview with Steve Coogan in The Independent today:

Murray, says Coogan, is “recklessly truthful” and “heroically flawed”, the sort of well-intended but slightly damaged character that he relishes.

http://news.independent.co.uk/media/article2859337.ece

I am pretty happy with his characterisation of me and of Murder in Samarkand. I trust Steve and Michael, and I think they have got the message the film needs to convey. If it can be conveyed with humour, all the better. I am really starting to look forward to the filming now. We are just about at the point where production work will really take off, as filming on Genova is almost finished.

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On Being Sort Of Alan Partridge 8

Michael Winterbottom has been talking about Murder in Samarkand

Arlington, Va.: Hi Michael! I’m a big fan of yours as well as Steve Coogan’s. I loved “24 Hour Party People” and “Tristram Shandy” (and I’m fairly obsessed with everything Alan Partridge). I saw that you’re going to be reunited again for “Murder in Samarkand,” but I was wondering if you two have any comedies in the works as well?

Michael Winterbottom:”Murder in Samarkand” is hopefully going to be funny. It’s a black comedy about torture in Uzbekistan. Steve will play Craig Murray, the British ambassador to Uzbekistan, who spends a lot of time in bars and at dancing clubs. It’s sort of Alan Partridge or Tony Wilson, trying to prevent the British government from using information they’ve obtained through torture.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/discussion/2007/06/12/DI2007061200562.html

If I wasn’t so easy-going, I might be a bit alarmed. But A Mighty Heart seems to show that the US public doesn’t want a serious exploration of the “War on Terror”, no matter how critically acclaimed.

http://living.scotsman.com/film.cfm?id=1175612007

My hope for Murder in Samarkand is that the film might be the MASH or Catch 22 for our generation, helping cement a growing popular cultural consensus on the stupidity of the “War”. That would be worth my coming over personally as an idiot.

Never understimate humour as a political weapon.

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Michael Winterbottom and an Interesting Revelation 4

Winterbottom cites that Murray’s memoir makes for funny and riveting reading, and mentions that the first seventy pages are largely devoted to stories about all the people Mr. Murray slept with while in St. Petersburg, Russia, before going off to Uzbekistan.

http://www.popcornreel.com/pearlheart.htm

Basically true, although that’s not all I did (or wrote about) in St Petersburg. Murder in Samarkand was written at 245,000 words and edited down by the publishers to 130,000 words. Michael is referring to the original manuscript. I hope the St Petersburg stuff will appear in the next volume.

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David Hare and the Lost Script 5

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.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk:80/opinion/main.jhtml?xml=/opinion/2007/07/08/dp0801.xml

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.

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A Mighty Heart

I have been more than usually attentive to the reception given to Michael Winterbottom’s film “A Mighty Heart” at Cannes. This has exactly the same team of producers and director as the film of my memoir Murder in Samarkand, on which the cameras are set to start rolling in February, so plainly I have a major interest in the team’s success.

The papers today all carry an account of yesterday’s press conference at the premiere, based on the Pitt/Jolie celeb power. As far as I can gather, none of these reports were written after actually seeing the film itself. The only real film review I can find so far is this rather gushing one from Fox News.

Angelina Jolie Film About Slain Reporter Daniel Pearl Filmmaking of Highest Order

Monday, May 21, 2007

By Roger Friedman

“A Mighty Heart,” Angelina Jolie’s film about the kidnapping and murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, had its first screening Monday morning at the Cannes Film Festival.

Simply put, the Michael Winterbottom film is an exceptional piece of work, deeply affecting and filmmaking of the highest order.

In purely Hollywood terms, the film is a certain Oscar nominee. Everyone involved in “A Mighty Heart” ‘ from Winterbottom to Jolie as Pearl’s widow, Mariane, to Dan Futterman as Daniel Pearl ‘ can be proud of a job very well done.

Based on the book by Mariane Pearl, the film follows the pregnant Mariane as she searches for her husband following his disappearance in Karachi, Pakistan, in 2002. At the time, Daniel Pearl was writing a story about shoe bomber Richard Reid.

Winterbottom’s cinema verit’-style only adds to the immediacy of the Pearl tragedy. This director has done a remarkable job.

And it’s not just Jolie and Futterman who shine. The entire supporting cast including Irfan Khan, who has already had a hit this year with “The Namesake,” and the always reliable Will Patton as a CIA agent, makes the back-stories of the film eminently watchable, too.

But ultimately it’s Winterbottom’s achievement with screenwriter John Orloff (‘Band of Brothers’) in making ‘Mighty Heart’ an ensemble piece.

Jolie, who’s probably the hottest celebrity right now and covered by every tabloid in the world, could easily have become outsized in a story with many elements. Instead, she is quite tempered here, and becomes a team player whether she likes it or not.

It’s easy to forget what a fine actress she can be. But her understanding of Mariane Pearl is unusually touching. For most of the movie, Mariane seems a little cool, distant and brittle as she absorbs the news that her husband has been kidnapped.

Jolie, however, finally shows the human side of this strong woman when she learns that her husband is actually dead. She lets loose with shrieks of anguish that are all too real. They are almost like animal cries, and I guarantee you, audiences will be pulling out the Kleenex at this moment.

Winterbottom also punctuates the film with lots of jump-cutting, nonlinear plotting and flashback, all of which help add to the tension. He and Orloff flesh out Daniel Pearl, too, a hard task since he could have vanished after the kidnapping. But working with Futterman they create a very real man who met a tragic and untimely death.

And what a strange press conference at Cannes Monday after the first screening of “A Mighty Heart.” How things have changed! There was more interest in Brangelina’s celebrity life than in the Pearl tragedy or the politics that instigated it.

I could only wonder what Mariane Pearl, who was there on the dais with the cast, producers and director, thought of this episode. It was embarrassing. One woman even managed to jump on the stage at the end and kiss Brad Pitt. Oy vey!

http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,274172,00.html

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Murder in Samarkand – Interview With Michael Winterbottom 3

This is an extract from an interview with Michael Winterbottom published in El Pais on 23 March. It is translated from the Spanish by me, so may not be perfect.

Winterbottom always has three or four projects in hand. This day in March is no exception. A monitor in his London office is showing rushes of A Mighty Heart, about the murder in Pakistan of the Wall Street Journal correspondent Danny Pearl. The film is based on the reconstruction of the facts published by his widow, Marianne, played by Angelina Jolie. The director is also supervising details of the imminent filming of Genova, to be shot on location in Italy with Colin Firth. And meanwhile he looks toward the future, to 2008, when he expects to complete a trilogy with the actor Steve Coogan. The English humorist performs a triple role in Tristram Shandy and is the narrator of 24 Hour Party People, the frantic exploration by Winterbottom of the musical insanity of eighties Manchester.

“We want to do a comedy about torture”, he states, without avoiding the boldness of his objective. He is working already on the script, based on Murder in Samarkand, the biography of Craig Murray, the British ambassador to Uzbekistan who lost his job and diplomatic career to denounce the connivance of Tony Blair’s government in cases of torture of terrorist subjects.

“There is a connection among these three movies, that relates to aspects of Steve. The structure, the form and the tone of the narrative are similar. Also the feverish passion for people, the love of ideas and a sense of humor that pricks pomposity”, Winterbottom explains.

As a person, Tristram Shandy has entered the English popular vocabulary to describe people of brimming imagination and absurd ideas. The book was also viewed as unfilmable. In “A Cock and Bull Story” Winterbottom resolves the problem by making a film about a film, that is to say, about a group of filmmakers who try to adapt the novel.

“The book is not based on a traditional concept of narrative. It disperses in multiple directions, with no straight line, and interspersed with passages very tangential to the central story. It is one of the aspects that most attracted me to the project. Movies, in general, are incredibly conservative as to structure and form. Here I deliberately avoid falling into a lineal structure, as I also did in 24 Hour Party People and I want to do again in Murder in Samarkand”, explains the director.

Lourdes Gomez, El Pais, 23/3/07

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Movie stars in Straw poll 2

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.

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Coming to a cinema near you … Alan Partridge as Our Man in Tashkent 1

By Ewen MacAskill in The Guardian

One of the most embarrassing episodes for the Foreign Office in recent years is about to become even more embarrassing. British film-makers are planning to make a movie for release next year about the exploits of the renegade British ambassador, Craig Murray, with Steve Coogan in the running to play him.

The producer, Michael Winterbottom, who directed The Road to Guant’namo and A Cock and Bull Story, which starred Coogan, has bought the film rights to Mr Murray’s Murder in Samarkand, an account of his two years as ambassador to Uzbekistan. The book, which is due out in June, is described by its publisher, Mainstream, as “an incredible true story of espionage, torture, high politics, sex and murder”.

But the Foreign Office, which sacked Mr Murray in 2004, warned yesterday that it could take legal action if publication goes ahead. It described the book as misleading and incorrect, and the criticism of colleagues as “unfair and unwarranted”.

Mr Murray, who is on holiday in Ghana, said yesterday that he intended to go ahead with the book, adding: “Let’s see if they try to ban the film.” He was pleased at the prospect of being played by Coogan, who is best known for his creation Alan Partridge. Mr Murray met Coogan for a chat in London last month at the office of Mr Winterbottom’s Revolution film company. He said Coogan had liked the book. “He is keen to do it. He seems to have a genuine empathy with the part.” He did not know who might play the foreign secretary, Jack Straw.

While Mr Murray, 47, was ambassador, he made many public statements condemning the regime of the Uzbekistan president, Islam Karimov, for its atrocious human rights record. At the time, the US government was seeking Mr Karimov’s help, especially in using Uzbekistan as a base for US operations in Afghanistan after September 11.

Eva Yates, a spokeswoman for Revolution, said: “We have the rights and we are intending to make it. Because of the nature of the book, we are trying to be quite discreet in terms of research over there [in Uzbekistan].” She said the film was at an early stage and it had not been confirmed who was to play Mr Murray, though Coogan has a long-standing relationship with the company.

“I do not come across as a hero,” said Mr Murray. “I am an ordinary, fallible guy who could not go along with what the government was doing. He [Coogan] likes the fact that the humour is self-deprecating.”

He added: ” There is a lot of satirical humour as well as total horror, really awful moments. We had a certain gallows humour in the embassy.”

Since being removed from his post, he has been a continual irritation to Mr Straw, standing against him at the last general election to publicise his case. He has received several letters from the Foreign Office warning him against publication, which he has posted on his website. Last month he went to the Foreign Office to discuss contentious parts of his book but refused to back down.

A Foreign Office spokeswoman said yesterday: “There is still ongoing discussion with Craig Murray. We have made it clear it is not right to publish this book. The reason we gave to Craig Murray is because it is a betrayal of trust. Some of its contents are misleading and incorrect and we also believe that criticism of former colleagues is unfair and unwarranted.”

She added: “We will actively consider our legal options if he publishes his book.” After sacking him, the Foreign Office claimed the breakdown of its relationship with Mr Murray was not about his outspoken comments but came about because he was suffering from personal problems.

Downing Street bitterly regrets allowing the former Washington ambassador, Sir Christopher Meyer, to publish his memoirs last year. The Foreign Office later blocked a detailed account of diplomatic manoeuvring in the run-up to the Iraq war by former United Nations and Iraq ambassador, Sir Jeremy Greenstock.

Asked about the sex content of the book, Mr Murray said: “There is part of me that is a bit fallible. During my couple of years in Uzbekistan, I went through a marriage break-up and started a relationship with a younger woman. The government has been trying to discredit me.”

But he said this was only a small part of the book: “It is not a Jackie Collins bodice-ripper.”

Undiplomatic language

Murray on the FCO: “Ponderous, self-important and ineffective.”

On the foreign secretary, Jack Straw: “It seems to me essential that Straw is punished for the illegal war, for the decision that the intelligence services should regularly use information obtained under torture, for the dossier of lies on Iraqi WMD.”

On the British government’s alleged use of unreliable information obtained by torture: “We are selling our souls for dross.”

On how a British diplomat should deal with repressive governments such as Uzbekistan’s: “There is no point in having cocktail-party relationships with a fascist regime.”

On the US need for bases in central Asia: “Above all, we need to care about the 22 million Uzbek people, suffering from poverty and lack of freedom. They are not just pawns in the new Great Game.”

On sex and drinking: “I have no intention of living like a monk – not that I have anything against monks.”

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Ambassador memoirs put UK officials on edge

'Colourful comic' Steve Coogan

From Greatreporter.com

Few things sell a film better than intrigue and curiosity. Good news for director Michael Winterbottom. Bad news for the British government…

Winterbottom has just optioned Murder in Samarkand, the as-yet unpublished memoirs of Britain’s former Ambassador to Uzbekistan, Craig Murray. The interest is heightened by Winterbottom’s seemingly odd assertion that the book is “very, very funny” and his proposed casting of the colourful comic Steve Coogan as the ousted ambassador.

For a book that contains descriptions of torture, ranging from people being boiled alive to those who had their children beaten to a pulp in front of them while they are chained upside-down, this surely has to be seen to be believed.

Murray’s book, which, court-wrangles permitting, will make his denunciations of the government’s foreign policy available from bookshops everywhere in June, alleges complicity on the part of Number 10 and the Foreign Office with the torture and corruption Mr Murray claims he witnessed while on duty in the former Soviet state.

Murray is now a prominent critic of Western policy in the region.

The government has, of course, denied the allegations, and is threatening legal action on the grounds of libel, Crown Copyright, breach of confidence and the Official Secrets Act.

Following the relative ease with which the memoirs of Sir Christopher Meyer, Britain’s erstwhile ambassador to the US, made it into the public domain last November, it is rumoured that attempts to block Murder in Samarkand’s publication will be especially forceful.

This is eminently credible, but more because Murray’s book is primed to be rather more damaging to the people who would have it censored, than because of any feeling of ‘missing out’ last time. But with a film now due, attempts to obstruct Murray’s book could well backfire, generating publicity the publishers, would no doubt be delighted with.

Partners in Crime

Like Mr Murray, Mr Winterbottom is no stranger to controversy.

His latest film, The Road to Guantanamo, which premiered at the Berlin Film Festival in February, tells the story of three British Muslims who were held in the infamous American naval base for two years before being released in March 2004.

The film made the headlines not just for its content, but also because when the actors returned to Luton airport from Berlin, six of them were stopped and questioned under the Terrorism Act.

It is something prospective actors for ‘Murder’ might want to bear in mind when work starts on the film in 2007.

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Director Options Dismissed U.K. Diplomat’s Book

From OhMy News

Director Michael Winterbottom has taken an option on “Murder in Samarkand,” the forthcoming book by Craig Murray, a former ambassador to Uzbekistan, detailing his dismissal in October 2004 “after exposing appalling human rights abuses by the U.S.-funded regime of President Islam Karimov,” according to the publisher.

Winterbottom’s most recent film “The Road to Guantanamo” won the Golden Berlin Bear at the Berlin Film Festival and will soon be shown in the U.K. on Channel 4 television. The new film could take at least a year to develop.

As reported in the Times Online, Murray has no objection to being portrayed in the film by Steve Coogan, better known as a comedian. “There are elements of dark comedy in the story,” says Murray, “and Steve Coogan has shown that he has quite a dramatic range.”

The book is scheduled for publication in June but has not been cleared by the Foreign Office. As reported by Blairwatch, Murray has listed some of the changes made in a version that might have been cleared. These include removing a report on GCHQ telephone intercepts, and making it clear that there is dispute over a reference to Research Analysts being “in tears over pressure brought over claims of Iraqi WMD.”

Richard Stagg, Director General Corporate Affairs, has written to Murray showing four areas of legal reasons to prevent publication. These are defamation, breach of confidence, Crown Copyright and the Official Secrets Act. In a letter of Feb. 9, Murray asks for the passages thought to be defamatory to be identified. Murray repeats his readiness to alter the text.

“The only point still at dispute, is that I have in the text that a member of Research Analysts told me that people in that Department were in tears over pressure put on them to go along with claims of Iraqi WMD. You tell me that the officer, still in your employ, now denies telling me this. I have noted in the book that I say he told me this, and he apparently says he did not tell me this. People can draw their own conclusions. I cannot see why this is such a huge problem for you, or would lead you to want to ban a book.”

Murray then asks why Crown Copyright issues would be any different from the recent memoirs by former British Ambassador to the U.S. Christopher Meyer.

The letter concludes: “Finally, you threaten me with the Official Secrets Act. I am confident I am not breaking it. And if you really want to ask a jury of twelve honest citizens to send me to prison for campaigning against torture, good luck to you.”

Action under the Official Secrets Act may follow publication in June. However, the case on the Al Jazeera memo has been very slow to get to court and no action has been taken against Peter Kilfoyle MP. As reported by Guy Adams in The Independent, Murray is ready for a legal case and would call Foreign Secretary Jack Straw as a witness. In an interview with The Bookseller he said he has “proof that the Government has been obtaining intelligence from torture, and that Jack Straw approved it.”

Any legal action would be taken as there is growing concern about the legality of U.K. government policy and support for the U.S.

In a related story, Dr. John Sentamu, Archbishop of York and formerly a High Court judge in Uganda who fled during the regime of Idi Amin, has called for Guantanamo to be closed. He objects to Tony Blair’s description of Guantanamo as an “anomaly.”

Dr. Sentamu said: “By declaring ‘war on terror’ President Bush is perversely applying the rules of engagement that apply in a war situation. But the prisoners are not being regularly visited by the Red Cross or Red Crescent, which is required by the Geneva Convention. They were not even allowed to be interviewed by the U.N. human rights group.

“In Uganda President Amin did something similar: he did not imprison suspects because he knew that in prison, the law would apply to them so he created special places to keep them. If the Guantanamo Bay detainees were on American soil the law would apply. This is a breach of international law and a blight on the conscience of America.”

Former foreign secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind recently wrote in the Spectator: “As the use of extraordinary rendition has increased enormously since 2001, the obvious explanation is that the Americans have used British airports and airspace but have stopped requesting permission, and the British authorities have acquiesced. If he wants to clear the matter up, all that Mr. Straw needs to do is ask the United States for an assurance that from now on, no CIA flights landing or refueling at British airports will carry kidnapped prisoners.”

Last weekend an editorial in the Sunday Times concluded “The United States betrays its founding principles if it condones torture. Mr. Bush and Tony Blair shrug off the criticism at home but fail to address the international damage done. We are peppering ourselves with buckshot.”

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A Celluloid Headache: more on the Craig Murray movie

The cinema face of Craig Murray? Click for more on Steve Coogan

From Times Online

A celluloid headache awaits the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. The controversial memoirs of Craig Murray (former Ambassador to Uzbekistan) are to be made into a movie.

Slightly weirdly, Michael Winterbottom, the director (24 Hour Party People, The Road to Guant’namo), has optioned Murder in Samarkand, which ‘ court battles permitting ‘ is due to be published in June.

Very weirdly, he plans to cast Steve Coogan in the lead role. Can it be true? ‘Actually, yes,’ says Murray. ‘It’s extremely good news. I’ve met with Michael, and with Steve Coogan, and with a, well, a very well-known screenwriter, whose name I’m not going to divulge.’

Murray’s book lifts the lid on torture and corruption in the former Soviet state and alleges lazy complicity on the part of Downing Street and the FCO. It doesn’t, in short, sound like typical Alan Partridge fare.

‘There are elements of dark comedy in the story,’ shrugs Murray, ‘and Steve Coogan has shown that he has quite a dramatic range.’

And who should play Jack Straw, the man whom Murray evidently considers to be his nemesis? The former ambassador lets out a dark laugh. ‘I think it is a role tailor-made for Alan Rickman,’ he says.

See also Cinematical and TimeOut

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Steve Coogan “in the frame” to play Craig Murray in film version of Murder in Samarkand

From Dark Horizons

Controversial British director Michael Winterbottom (“9 Songs”, “Code 46”, “The Road to Guantanamo”) has set yet another hot button project as his next film – “Murder in Samarkand” reports Production Weekly.

Based on the memoirs of Craig Murray, the former UK ambassador to Uzbekistan, the film will follow his famous firing in 2004 after drawing attention to torture and human rights abuses in Uzbekistan.

Comedian Steve Coogan, who has worked twice with Winterbottom before on “24 Hour Party People” and “Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story” is tipped to be playing Murray in the film which is expected to be taking a year to set up.

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