Genesius Plots TV Debut With ‘Mona Lisa,’ ‘The Messenger’; Develops Katy Brand Projects; Sets ‘Leo Grande’ Release (EXCLUSIVE)

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U.K. independent production company Genesius Pictures is debuting in the television space with a brace of projects, complementing its robust film slate.

“Shetland” writer David Kane is developing “The Messenger,” a series based on author Anne Zouroudi’s bestselling Greek Detective novels. Genesius has also optioned the rights for Neil Jordan’s seminal 1986 film “Mona Lisa,” starring Bob Hoskins, Cathy Tyson and Michael Caine. Emerging actor/writer Isis Davis (“Killing Eve”) is developing for television, adapting it by taking the female protagonist from the film and making it her story.

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On the film front, “Late in Summer,” novelist Talitha Stevenson’s directorial debut set in rural Cornwall during WWII, about finding love in middle age, is set for a late summer shoot. It stars Emily Watson and Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje. “The Iceman,” directed by Kevin Macdonald, will commence principal photography in the first quarter of 2023, including a schedule in the Netherlands and a yet-to-be decided snowy location. Joseph Fiennes will star as prolific and larger-than-life extreme athlete Wim Hof, who is best known for his breathing-focused workout in freezing temperatures called the Wim Hof Method.

Also in the works is “The Radleys,” based on Matt Haig’s bestselling novel about a seemingly normal family with a deadly secret. Euros Lyn will direct in early 2023 after he wraps Season 2 of Netflix hit “Heartstopper.”

Genesius developed a warm working relationship with actor and writer Katy Brand, who wrote “Good Luck to You, Leo Grande,” which has had a stellar festival run that includes Sundance, Berlin, Sydney and Tribeca playdates. The company is developing two more projects with Brand. “Libby and Joan Hit the Road” is a female road trip movie, which will be shot in Australia. The film will be a co-production with The Reset Collective, an Australian development, production and distribution company set up by Genesius, Mark Gooder and Alison Thompson’s sales company Cornerstone Films and distribution executive Lisa Garner. Also being developed with Brand is a comedy about “cancel culture” called “Paloma Strong Gets Canceled.”

Meanwhile, Genesius’ immediate focus is on the U.K. and Ireland theatrical release of “Leo Grande,” opening across 200 screens on June 17 and day-and-date on Hulu in the U.S. The film, directed by Sophie Hyde, and starring Oscar and BAFTA winner Emma Thompson and Daryl McCormack, was acquired by Lionsgate U.K. and has sold widely around the world. Thompson stars as Nancy Stokes, a retired schoolteacher and widow yearning for some adventure, human connection and good sex, which she was robbed of in her stable but stale marriage. To make things right, she hires the services of Leo Grande, a sex worker in his early 20’s.

“Women who are 40-plus are so underrepresented on screen, yet, if you look at films with Meryl Streep, for example, they do $100 million-plus at the box office,” Genesius managing director Debbie Gray tells Variety. “I just hope that for women who are so hungry for content that represents themselves, their challenges, their pleasures, etc., this will be a film that every woman wants to go and see, and every man as well.”

Gray says that in “Leo Grande,” the character Nancy breaks out and challenges all boundaries, and through that rite of passage, realizes that she can have desires, pleasures and an emotional change. “I think, a little bit like me, in the sense that, what I strive to do is tell stories and reach people from different backgrounds who maybe have not had the confidence to break through those boundaries,” says Gray.

“Good Luck to You, Leo Grande” - Credit: Nick Wall
“Good Luck to You, Leo Grande” - Credit: Nick Wall

Nick Wall

It has been quite a boundary-breaking journey for Gray, who hails from a working-class background. Gray entered the industry after training as a lawyer and went on to specialize in business and legal affairs, representing producers, actors and talent, which enabled her to get an insight into the commercial side of the business. She produced a pilot for a children’s TV show and stints at U.K. broadcasters BBC and ITV followed.

Gray left ITV when filmmaker Elaine Constantine asked her to produce “Northern Soul” (2014), an uplifting tale of two friends whose horizons are opened up by the discovery of Black American soul music. “We had so many doors closed to us, and I think that was partly because we were both women from maybe not the right background,” says Gray.

The film scored a BAFTA nomination. During the production, Gray met Julian Gleek, one of the main financiers of the film. They got on well and after the breakout critical and commercial success of the film, they set up Genesius Pictures. Films produced by the company include “The More You Ignore Me” (2018), which deals with mental health, and “Mrs Lowry & Son” (2019), depicting the relationship between renowned British artist L.S. Lowry and his mother Elizabeth, with whom he lived until her death.

Gray says a lot of the films she has produced reflect some of the struggles that come from being an underdog. Despite her successes, the challenges remain. “Independent filmmaking I love it, I champion it, but it’s not easy,” says Gray. “Being a woman, you do face a few barriers, and it’s an industry where it’s quite hard to break through, if you’re not from a certain background.”

“I think it is changing, and I hope it’s changing rapidly,” adds Gray.

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