ITV commissions single film The Scapegoat from Island Pictures

by Lynn Connolly

ITV has commissioned a period adaptation of the Daphne du Maurier novel, The Scapegoat, starring Matthew Rhys and Eileen Atkins written and directed by Charles Sturridge.

Matthew, who is best known for his role as Kevin Walker in the hit US series Brothers and Sisters will play the double roles of John Standing and Johnny Spence and award winning British actress Eileen Atkins will play his mother Lady Spence.

The 100 minute single film will be produced by Sarah Beardsall and Dominic Minghella’s production company, Island Pictures.

Set in 1952, as England prepares for the coronation, The Scapegoat tells the story of two very different men, John Standing and Johnny Spence, who have one thing in common – a face. Almost exact replicas of each other they meet by chance in a station bar, each at a crossroads in their life, one setting out on a walking tour after losing his job as a teacher; the other avoiding home after a disastrous business venture.

The charming and charismatic Johnny wines and dines his new acquaintance but when John wakes the next morning with a hangover he is alone and a chauffeur is standing outside his room, waiting to take him ‘home’.

Despite his protests he finds himself sucked irresistibly into another man’s life.
Stepping literally into his double’s shoes, inexperienced schoolmaster is suddenly responsible for a crumbling stately home, a failing business and a dog who doesn’t recognise him.

Literally Lord of all he surveys, he is master of nothing and for the first time in his life, he has to deal with women, including a distraught wife, a drug taking mother, a sister who despises him, an eccentric daughter – and two mistresses one of whom happens to be married to his younger brother.

Although he tries at first to escape John find himself increasing attracted to this disparate and dysfunctional group of women and slowly his presence starts to alter the chemistry of the household. Just as he seems to be making progress however two things happen: John finds himself falling in love and his nemesis Johnny returns in secret to the house with evil intent.

Filled with Du Maurier’s trademark elements of suspense, dark humor and unexpected twists the Scapegoat is a brilliant story in the tradition of the writer of Don’t Look Now, Rebecca and The Birds.

Sarah Beardsall and Dominic Minghella (Doc Martin, Robin Hood) will produce The Scapegoat for Island Pictures. Multi award winning British film and television director Charles Sturridge (Handful of Dust, Shackleton, The Road to Coronation Street ) directs and has also written the screenplay.

The Scapegoat has been commissioned for ITV1 by Drama commissioning team Laura Mackie and Sally Haynes.

“We’re delighted to be bringing The Scapegoat to ITV1. It’s a terrific, suspenseful script featuring characters with sinister motivations and dark secrets. We’ve wanted to adapt a Daphne Du Maurier novel for some time and we’re thrilled we now have this opportunity with The Scapegoat,” said Laura.

Added Sarah Beardsall: “The Scapegoat will take viewers on a suspenseful journey with the character of John, from friendless anonymity, to the glamour of the big house, and then to the dark reality behind it. Our ambition is to do cinematic justice to the du Maurier brand, and the very particular world that she has created. The main roles of identical ‘twins’ – so different in personality and experience – are a gift for an actor, and we’re hugely excited to have Matthew playing the parts. Coupled with a fantastic script, laced with du Maurier’s famous – and timeless – dark humour, we’re confident the film will be well received by audiences of both small and big screen.”

“It is a daunting challenge to follow in the footsteps of Hitchcock and Roeg in adapting this thrilling and provocative writer for the screen. I loved the story from the moment I first read it and the extraordinary mix of brilliant characters surrounding these mirror image men,” said director and adapter Sturridge.

The Scapegoat will be released for cinema audiences following its screening on ITV1. International theatrical distribution will be handled by Content Film. The film goes into production on location in London in November 2011.


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Lynn is an editor and writer here at Unreality TV and is trained psychotherapist and the author of two books. She's addicted to soaps, period drama and reality TV shows such as X Factor, I'm A Celeb and Big Brother.