Columbia Pictures has entered into an agreement with CBS Films to create a new motion picture of the Lerner and Loewe classic musical “My Fair Lady,” to be produced by Duncan Kenworthy and Cameron Mackintosh, it was announced today by Doug Belgrad and Matt Tolmach, presidents of Columbia Pictures. CBS Films will be actively involved in the development of the new film. Keira Knightley is reportedly in talks to star.
The new film will use the original songs of the much-loved Broadway show, and will not alter its 1912 setting, but Kenworthy and Mackintosh intend where possible to shoot the film on location in the original London settings of Covent Garden, Drury Lane, Tottenham Court Road, Wimpole Street, and Ascot racecourse. The filmmaking team will also look to adapt Alan Jay Lerner’s book more fully for the screen by drawing additional material from Pygmalion – – George Bernard Shaw’s play that served as the source material for the musical — in order to dramatize as believably as possible for present-day audiences the emotional highs and lows of Eliza Doolittle as she undergoes the ultimate makeover, transforming under the tutelage of Professor Henry Higgins from a Cockney flower girl to a lady.
Commenting on the announcement, Belgrad said, “‘My Fair Lady’ is not just the quintessential stage musical and classic film, but a fantastic story. We’re thrilled to have the opportunity to bring it to the screen once again. There is no one alive who knows this material better than Cameron Mackintosh; he has staged two revivals of ‘My Fair Lady,’ the first in 1979 directed by Alan Jay Lerner himself, and the second the award-winning adaptation that’s now touring the United States. He and Duncan Kenworthy have already set out on the long journey of bringing a new version to the screen and we feel very lucky to be a part of it. This update will preserve the magic of the musical while fleshing out the characters and bringing 1912 London to life in an authentic and exciting way for contemporary audiences.”
“‘My Fair Lady’s’ extraordinary tale of a man turning a flower girl into a lady, and then falling for her, combines one of the most powerful narratives in world literature with some of the wittiest and most winning songs ever written for the stage,” said Mackintosh. “People everywhere will fall in love again with Lerner and Loewe’s miraculous songs set in a big, gorgeous film with contemporary stars, a more realistically achieved vision of Edwardian London, and a touch more Pygmalion at the heart of this powerfully emotional story of a girl’s transformation. The classic story of a flower girl transformed into an instant sensation couldn’t be more timely in a contemporary world obsessed with overnight celebrity.”
Kenworthy said, “When George Cukor shot his wonderful film entirely on sets inside Warner’s Burbank soundstages, Lerner and Loewe’s smash hit musical had been running on Broadway for seven years, and the film was appropriately reverential and inevitably theatrical. With forty years of hindsight, we’re confident that by setting these wonderful characters and brilliant songs in a more realistic context, and by exploring Eliza’s emotional journey more fully, we will honor both Shaw and Lerner at the same time as engaging and entertaining contemporary audiences the world over. The casting of Eliza is crucial, and we are currently in discussion with a major international star to play the role.”
The Pygmalion story has always been closely connected with the screen. Gabriel Pascal’s film of 1938, starring Wendy Hiller and Leslie Howard, had an Oscar-winning screenplay by George Bernard Shaw himself. “My Fair Lady,” with book and lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner and music by Frederick Loewe, was first staged in 1956. The musical starred Julie Andrews, rocketing her to stardom, and won the Tony Award for Best Musical. It was then adapted for the screen in 1963, directed by George Cukor, with Audrey Hepburn as Eliza and Rex Harrison as Higgins. The film won eight Academy Awards®, including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actor, and was nominated for four more.
Duncan Kenworthy has produced three of the most successful British films of all time: Four Weddings and a Funeral, Notting Hill and Love Actually, all three written by Richard Curtis. Together, they grossed nearly $900 million at the worldwide box office.
He began his career on “Sesame Street” in New York, then worked closely with Jim Henson for 10 years in London as associate producer of The Dark Crystal, co-creator and producer of cult HBO series “Fraggle Rock,” and producer of Anthony Minghella’s award-winning “The Storyteller: Greek Myths” series. Through his company, Toledo Productions, he produced the feature film Lawn Dogs with Sam Rockwell, and a critically acclaimed miniseries of “Gulliver’s Travels” starring Ted Danson.
He has been nominated for a Best Picture Oscar® and three Golden Globes, and has won five British Academy Awards and three Emmys. He was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (O.B.E.) in 1999 for services to film, and is the immediate past Chairman of the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA).
Producer Sir Cameron Mackintosh has been called “the most successful, influential and powerful theatrical producer in the world” by The New York Times. He has produced many of the West End’s and Broadway’s most successful musicals, including “Cats,” “Les Miserables,” “The Phantom of the Opera,” “Miss Saigon,” the West End production of “Avenue Q,” and the West End and Broadway productions of “Mary Poppins.” His next big London production will be of another classic, “Oliver!,” at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, in December this year.
Mackintosh has staged two major revivals of “My Fair Lady”: the first, in 1979, was directed by Alan Jay Lerner, and the second, in 2001, was honored with three Olivier Awards. The latter production, after closing in the West End, toured the U.K. and is currently touring the United States to huge acclaim.
He was knighted in the 1996 New Year’s Honours list for services to musical theatre.