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A Dead Man in Deptford

Sam Riley

26 October 2010

A Dead Man in the Making

Adaptation of Anthony Burgess novel to start filming in 2011.

Christopher Marlowe's life may finally be about to be dramatised on the silver screen. For some time rumours have occasionally surfaced about prospective Marlowe movie projects, with Jude Law often mentioned as a likely candidate for the lead role. Recent announcements in the movie press however indicate that preparations for a film starring Sam Riley as Marlowe are in an advanced state of planning, and filming will actually begin in the spring of 2011.

It is great news of course if Marlowe is to be the subject of such a high profile movie, especially with what sounds like an impressive British cast that also includes Ray Winstone as Robert Poley and James Purefoy as Edward Alleyn. Less encouraging is the news that the script will be adapted by Michael Elias (The Jerk) from Anthony Burgess' 1993 fictional novel, A Dead Man in Deptford.

Burgess of course wrote some highly acclaimed works, most notably A Clockwork Orange which was itself famously turned into a film by Stanley Kubrick, and there is much to commend Burgess' atmospheric Elizabethan novel, the last of his books which was published in the same year as his death from lung cancer (1993 - the 400th anniversary of the events in Deptford, of course). But it remains a fictionalised and imaginative account of Marlowe's life. The lazy reference to the mythical "tavern brawl" cited in the synopsis on the back cover of the book indicates why it is not favoured by some Marlowe scholars, and the inaccurate cliché is duly and disappointingly regurgitated in quite a few of the news items announcing details of the film. With the documented biographical facts supplying what is already one of the most exciting, controversial and action-packed lives in literary history, it is a little disappointing if Marlowe's long-awaited big screen biopic is to be adapted from a work of fiction.

Sam Riley on the other hand is an extremely inspiring choice to play Marlowe. His portrayal in the film Control of Ian Curtis, the tragic lead singer of Joy Division, rightly received wide critical acclaim, and Riley is about to skulk back into the limelight as small-time gangster Pinky in an ambitious remake of Brighton Rock, recreating Richard Attenborough's role from the 1947 cinematic original that is generally regarded as one of the best British movies of all time. A Dead Man in Deptford is to be directed by Nick Copus, much of whose work to date has been in TV (he has directed episodes of both EastEnders and Holby City) although the release of his first big screen movie Ice is imminent.

This would not be Marlowe's debut on the big screen. Rupert Everett portrayed him as the confident and accomplished master of the written word, happy to casually proffer advice and ideas at the drop of a hat to the struggling newcomer in the wonderful Shakespeare in Love, a film that cleverly worked Marlowe's death into the plot. If the newly proposed film takes half as much care with its characterisation and historical accuracy, then we will certainly be in for something to look forward to.

 
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