It gives me great pleasure to reveal (and for once this isn’t a joke) that BBC Films has finally announced, today, the production of a screenplay based on my book The Perfect Distance, an account of the rivalry between Steve Ovett and Sebastian Coe.
Thus, a quarter of a century after their heyday, arguably the greatest rivalry in athletics history is finally destined for the silver screen, sometime before the Olympic Games in London 2012, a sports festival whose staging in Britain’s capital city owes much to the efforts of Seb, now Lord Coe.
Three years ago, in his then regular Guardian column, Steve Cram, the man who took over the world record mantle from Coe and Ovett, was bemoaning the lack of any sort of cinematic vehicle for the trio’s feats, which might help kick-start the largely moribund British middle distance scene, and incite the current crop of milers to emulate their illustrious predecessors.
Cram was musing on what had revived US middle and long distance running, and wondered, ‘in 1997 and 1998 two movies about the American athletic icon Steve Prefontaine hit the screens in the US. Pre died tragically in a car crash arguably at the height of his powers and although he never won an Olympic medal he has long carried the flame of American running dreams. No doubt one or two of those performing so well now had sat in their multiplex as youngsters and taken it all in. I’m not totally convinced it would get funding from UK Sport but a remake of the Three Musketeers set on the tracks of Europe in the 1980s might just do the trick for us. You never know.’
Cram, who I referred to in my book as the Third Man need wait and wonder no longer.
Shortly after Cram’s article, I was contacted by experienced producers Joanna Anderson and Vicky Licorish. Operating as AL Films, they subsequently optioned The Perfect Distance, and ultimately (these things take time) engaged Hollywood-based British screenwriter, Will Davies to produce a treatment. Following its delivery a month ago, BBC Films green-lighted the script, and yesterday authorised this announcement.
BBC Films sprints ahead with Ovett and Coe
London, UK – BBC Films and AL Films are developing a film together about the celebrated Olympic rivalry between Steve Ovett and Sebastian Coe, arguably the greatest athletics rivalry of all time.
The film is due to be released prior to London 2012 Olympics. Joanna Anderson and Vicky Licorish of AL Films, the producers behind BBC 1’s recent hit Small Island, have signed up LA-based Brit writer William Davies (Flushed Away, Johnny English, Twins) to write the screenplay. “Will is a fantastic writer who is a keen sportsman. He has been fired up by this story which means so much to a UK audience and is the British Olympic story which also gripped the US,” says Anderson.
Coe and Ovett ran in the Moscow and LA Olympics; they dominated world athletics for several years and had very contrasting personalities. “You were either an Ovett person or a Coe person” says Vicky Licorish, “and that’s what makes it such a great character piece as well.”
AL Films optioned the acclaimed account of their rivalry ‘The Perfect Distance’ by respected sports journalist Pat Butcher, who had unprecedented access to Coe and Ovett, as well as those closest to them.
Christine Langan, Creative Director BBC Films, says, “This is a gem of a story, about British sporting life and more. Will’s take on it is very exhilarating and BBC Films is excited to be developing it with him and AL Films.”
There’s still a long way to go, but stay tuned to Globerunner, for progress reports.