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Rebecca Ferguson scoops lead role in BBC adaptation of Philippa Gregory's The Cousins' War novels

By // Showbiz | Rebecca Ferguson scoops lead role in BBC adaptation of Philippa Gregory's The Cousins' War novels
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By Baz Bamigboye

PUBLISHED: 18:11 EST, 30 August 2012 | UPDATED: 05:02 EST, 31 August 2012

Swedish model and actress Rebecca Ferguson has landed the biggest television role of the year.

She has been cast to play The White Queen in a mammoth ten-part BBC drama based on Philippa Gregory's The Cousins' War novels about the women of the Wars of the Roses.

Rebecca, who is based in Stockholm, did audition after audition, joining scores of other actresses up for the role of Elizabeth Woodville, a widowed Lancastrian commoner with two children who falls in love with Edward IV, a member of the family of York.

The actress did her final audition on Bank Holiday Monday with Max Irons, who had already been signed to portray Edward. By 7.15am on Tuesday, she was told the role was hers.

The Cousins War: Actresses Rebecca Ferguson, centre, who will plays The White Queen with Amanda Hale, left, who plays Margaret Beaufort and Faye Marsay who plays Anne Neville

The Cousins War: Actresses Rebecca Ferguson, centre, who will plays The White Queen with Amanda Hale, left, who plays Margaret Beaufort and Faye Marsay who plays Anne Neville

Thirty minutes later, producer Gina Cronk was in the lobby of Rebecca's London hotel, waiting to take her for costume fittings, make-up tests and to a hairdresser to have her brown tresses lightened.

Later, she joined other cast members for a read through of the scripts, which were written by Emma Frost.

It's an impressive ensemble. Amanda Hale will play Margaret Beaufort - who becomes Elizabeth's bitter rival. Faye Marsay and Eleanor Tomlinson will portray Anne and Isabel Neville, daughters of Lord Warwick, the so-called Kingmaker (played by James Frain).

Award-winning Janet McTeer will play sorceress Jacquetta, Elizabeth's mother, who uses her magical powers to help her daughter capture the king's heart.

The women work behind the scenes, scheming ruthlessly to help their lovers, and their children, and will stop at nothing to gain - or keep - the throne. In terms of the menfolk, Aneurin Barnard will play Richard, Duke of Gloucester, David Oakes will be George, Duke of Clarence, and Tom McKay will portray Jasper Tudor.

Other key parts have gone to Robert Pugh, Juliet Aubrey, Frances Tomelty and Michael Maloney. Director James Kent will begin filming on locations in Bruges next week.

Ms Gregory's Cousins' War books were huge best-sellers and there's already talk that Ben Stephenson, BBC television's drama chief, is thinking of commissioning a second series next year.

Curtains for Shrek as Mendes moves in

With a tenacity that James Bond would admire, Sam Mendes — director of the latest 007 adventure — has managed to get Shrek moved out of a West End theatre next year so he can put Charlie And The Chocolate Factory on there instead.

   

More from Baz Bamigboye...

Mendes, who made the soon-to-be-released Bond film Skyfall, always wanted the Theatre Royal Drury Lane for the musical based on Roald Dahl’s classic book, but it wasn’t available — until now.

So at first his design team, led by Mark Thompson, measured up the nearby Prince Edward Theatre for set models.

Then the show’s producers at Warner Bros Theatre Ventures and Neal Street Productions agreed a deal for Charlie to go to the London Palladium — which meant Thompson and his associates had to construct new set models, based on the Palladium’s dimensions.

But Mendes never really  fancied the Palladium: it’s a variety house, not a proper home for musicals.

I’ve been expecting Mr Bond’s director to pull this off since I started hearing rumours months ago about a desire to bypass the Palladium and go straight for the Drury Lane, but these were strenuously denied.

More than one executive involved with Charlie told me, very forcefully, that the talk was ‘totally untrue’. This is showbusiness, folks, so I should have known I was being told big fat porkies. 

Now, Thompson has been inside Drury Lane with his measuring tape and, once again, re-adjusted his blueprints. And Shrek will give its last performance there on February 24.

Bill Damaschke, head of DreamWorks Theatricals said the show would tour the UK in 2014.

Charlie And The Chocolate Factory will start previewing at Drury Lane on May 18, with an official first night in June.

You may wonder how a plot like this has all come about without blood being splattered across theatre-land.

Well, Caro Newling and Sam Mendes, through their Neal Street company, were also involved in producing Shrek. And while Shrek was always packed over the Friday-Saturday-Sunday period, it struggled mightily during the week.

At least it had a decent run, and played better than when it was butchered on Broadway.

Damaschke commented in a statement: ‘Of course it is not without sadness that we have decided to leave next year, but it is some consolation that Sam and Caro will retain the lease of this remarkable building.’

Watch out for...

Oliver Ford Davies, who will again star in David Wood’s adaptation of Michelle Magorian’s charming novel Goodnight Mr Tom.

Mr Davies, one of our great actors, first played the role at the Chichester Festival Theatre a few seasons back.

The play tells the story of a young boy who is evacuated from his dismal London home during the Battle of Britain to stay with a reclusive gentleman who befriends him.

One to watch out for: Oliver Ford Davies as Tom Oakley in Goodnight Mister Tom

One to watch out for: Oliver Ford Davies as Tom Oakley in Goodnight Mister Tom

It opens at the West End’s  Phoenix Theatre (the first time the theatre has been free in years, after the long run of Blood Brothers) from November 22.

It will have a nine-week run there, then tour.

Francois Cluzet and Omar Sy, who star in Untouchable: a heartwarming movie about Driss (Sy), a man from the wrong side of the tracks who’s so full of street cred it hurts.

He’s hired to look after Philippe (Cluzet), a fabulously wealthy Parisian who also happens to be an art-loving quadriplegic.

Some of the scenes are so funny — but I won’t give any away, because this is a picture to be savoured and enjoyed.

I will just say that Sy knows how to shake it to Earth Wind & Fire.

I nearly forgot to tell you that it has French subtitles.

That’s because the film’s so engaging you barely notice. And the two leads are terrific.

It opens here on September 21. Go see it and have a laugh.

Ciaran Hinds, who will star in the film version of John Banville’s award-winning novel The Sea, about a retired art historian who revisits his past.

It’s expected to start filming at locations in Cork soon and will also star Sinead Cusack, Charlotte Rampling, Natascha McElhone and Rufus Sewell.

The movie has been in development for several years but Hinds and Sewell have always stuck by it.

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