Times Staff Writer

The deal

Robert Fox options Justine Picardie’s “Daphne,” a tale of author Daphne du Maurier’s midlife crises and literary obsession with the Brontes, told against the haunting backdrop of her classic novel “Rebecca.”

The players

Fox (executive producer of “Atonement” and “Closer,” producer of “The Hours,” “Notes on a Scandal” and “Iris”) producing. Picardie represented on literary rights by Grainne Fox at Ed Victor Limited in London and on film rights by Geoffrey Sanford at RWSH literary agency in Los Angeles. The book will be published by Bloomsbury USA in August.

The back story

The path from book to screen can be filled with twists and turns, false starts and random luck. But sometimes the path to an option deal -- the beginning of the process -- is no less surprising. Consider Picardie’s forthcoming novel, which begins in 1957 as Du Maurier’s marriage is falling apart. Plunging into her work, the distraught novelist begins relentless research into the life of Branwell Bronte, a tormented painter and alcoholic who was the only son born into the literary family. “Daphne” is the story of a famed British novelist on the verge of a breakdown, weaving in the strands of her most famous book, a literary whodunit and a troubled, modern character heavily influenced by the writer’s work.


Is this “The Hours” meets Daphne du Maurier? Picardie, a highly respected author, wrote “a very different book, but there are certain elements that are not dissimilar,” said Fox, who produced the 2002 film about Virginia Woolf. What’s more remarkable is how he got involved in the project. Picardie spent years researching Menabilly, the famed seaside estate that inspired “Rebecca.” Then she learned Fox had met the writer at the estate when he was a boy, and that his 100-year-old aunt also knew her. Through friends, she sent him an early draft of the book, and he was instantly smitten.

“I know the world this story takes place in incredibly well, I was maybe 5, 6 years old when I met Du Maurier and it’s indelibly imprinted on my mind,” Fox said. “It will be a very compelling story.” For Picardie, the coincidence of selling a book option to a filmmaker who has intimate knowledge of her story is astonishing. “I couldn’t have wished for a better fit, as an author.”