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‘Downton Abbey’ Star Hugh Bonneville to Play Roald Dahl in Biopic (EXCLUSIVE)

Variety logo Variety 5/11/2017 Robert Mitchell
© Provided by Variety

Hugh Bonneville of “Downton Abbey” fame is set to star as beloved children’s author Roald Dahl in an untitled biopic about Dahl and his wife, Patricia Neal, from Goldcrest Films.

Goldcrest, which is financing and co-producing the film as well as overseeing global sales and distribution, will introduce the project to international buyers at the Cannes Film Market. Atticus Pictures co-produces with Goldcrest.

“Personally, I can’t imagine anyone better than Hugh Bonneville to give the ambivalent nature of Roald Dahl’s life,” said producer Elliot Jenkins of Atticus Pictures. “He was such a man of wounded parts below his polished veneer of self-confidence.”

A bittersweet, comedic story focusing on Dahl’s marriage to actress Patricia Neal, the story moves between New York, England and Los Angeles in the early 1960s, a time when Dahl struggled to write some of his most famous works and Neal returned to acting with “Hud,” for which she won the best actress Oscar.

The currently untitled biopic, described as being in the vein of “Saving Mr. Banks” and “Finding Neverland,” is based on Stephen Michael Shearer’s biography of Neal, “An Unquiet Life.” It re-teams director and writer John Hay with co-writer David Logan; the pair worked together on 2011 television drama “Lost Christmas,” which won an International Emmy for best kids TV movie/miniseries.

“This film tracks the personal triumphs and tragedies behind the marriage of two globally known superstars,” said Pascal Degove, managing director of Goldcrest Films, who also serves as producer alongside Jenkins. “John and David’s excellent script is an audience-pleasing portrayal of Roald and Patricia’s touching love story, backgrounded by the cinematic sweep of the swinging ’60s.”

An actress has yet to be confirmed for the part of Neal, but Goldcrest said further casting announcements were expected soon. Other roles include a host of famous names that populated the couple’s world, including Neal’s “Hud” co-star, Paul Newman.

Dahl was one of Britain’s most successful novelists, with many of his works going on to generate a multitude of adaptations on stage and screen. Among his most famous global bestsellers were “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” “James and the Giant Peach,” “The BFG” and “Matilda.” He married Neal in 1953, a union that lasted 30 years.

Neal made her film debut in 1949 and went on to star in such Hollywood classics as “The Day the Earth Stood Still” and “Breakfast At Tiffany’s” before winning the Academy Award for her role in 1963’s “Hud.” She was nominated again in the best-actress category five years later for “The Subject Was Roses.”

Goldcrest Post will provide post-production services on the new biopic.

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