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British Filmmaker Peter Greenaway Preps Feature on Alexandre Dumas

British Filmmaker Peter Greenaway Preps Feature on Alexandre Dumas

In addition to the Sony Pictures feature film that was announced a year ago (with John Legend’s Get Lifted film production company), and the Spike TV serial that was put into development also last year – the first to be based on the 2013 Pulitzer Prize-winning book from acclaimed author Tom Reiss, titled “The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo;” and the second, a TV series adaptation of “The Count Of Monte Cristo”…

British director Peter Greenaway is preparing to shoot a film about The Black Count’s son, 19th century French author Alexandre Dumas, likely the most popular Dumas, author of literary classics like “The Count of Monte Cristo” and “The Three Musketeers.” 

Greenaway’s film will focus on Dumas’ trip across Russia, starting in 1858, where he lived for 4 years, according to the Timchenko Charity Foundation, which is backing the project.

The film, to be titled “Volga,” will be based on a diary Dumas kept of his trips across Russia, published in “Adventures in Czarist Russia, or From Paris to Astrakhan,” in which he documented observations of contemporary life, as well as the history of the 15 cities he visited.

“It’s an ambitious project to create a 150-minute film showing the multinational, multi-confessional and multi-ethnic character of the Volga region,” Greenaway said in a press statement, adding, “It’s a project where the past and the future, authentic culture and art, fiction and propaganda – everything is intertwined, where different religions – Christianity, Buddhism and Islam – peacefully co-exist. We will look for documentary shots that reveal life in the cities and villages, the history of trade fairs, Russian hospitality, images of corruption and political intrigue, of fine arts, religion, hunting, family habits, interiors and much other. The film is about more than Dumas describes in his book.”

A 2016 production start date is eyed, for release in 2017.

Dumas’ father, Alexandre Davy de la Pailleterie, aka “Black Devil” by some of the armies he fought against (let’s just say he was good at his job), aka The Black Count, is the subject of the 2013 Pulitzer Prize-winning book from acclaimed author Tom Reiss, titled “The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo.”

It’s a riveting, well-written story that reads with all the thrills of a novel written by Dumas’ son.

In short, his life is/was the stuff of legends, and became fodder for his son’s novels. “The Count Of Monte Cristo” and “The Three Musketeers,” for example, were, in part, based on Dumas, the father’s real-life story; his ending just wasn’t as happy as it was for the fictional count in the 2002 film that most are probably familiar with, starring Jim Caviezel and Guy Pearce (there’ve been several film adaptations of the novel, however). 

Dumas, the father, The Black Count, was born in Saint-Domingue (present-day Haiti) in 1762, the son of a black slave woman and a rebel French aristocrat. He was briefly sold into slavery but eventually made his way to Paris where he was schooled as a sword-fighting member of the French aristocracy. Enlisting as a private, through pure ability, skill and determination, he rose up through the ranks rather quickly, and would eventually command armies at the height of the French Revolution, in audacious campaigns across Europe and the Middle East. 

He wasn’t only a great soldier, but also became the highest-ranking black leader in a *modern* white society, at that time. By 32 years old, he was appointed commander-in-chief of the French army, which is the equivalent of a four-star general here in the USA. 

Initially praised and loved by Napoleon for his daring, heroic battlefield feats, the same Napoleon would eventually come to despise Dumas for, really, the same reasons he liked him in the first place – his independence and revolutionary ideals which dictated his approach to war, and earned him victories, as well as the respect of both his friends and enemies.

The last years of his life were unfortunately spent in captivity, before he would be released, all his accomplishments virtually forgotten, eventually dying of an incurable illness at just 43, in poverty, leaving a wife and 3 children – one of them being Alexandre Dumas, the son, who would go on to become the prolific and notable author.

While Dumas languished for two years in an enemy dungeon, Napoleon made himself dictator and destroyed the “post-racial” society that was France at the time, imposing cruel race laws, and re-instituting slavery in the colonies. Napoleon then went to extraordinary lengths to completely bury the memory of Alex Dumas, ensuring that he was all-but forgotten, until recent memory.

His story was ruthlessly suppressed by the country he practically gave his life to (France), and remained buried for some 200 or so years. 

The book itself is both a riveting true action/adventure story of this one man’s life, as well as a peek into what was essentially the modern world’s first multi-racial society. The author provides just enough crucial back-story, before diving into Dumas, the father’s own narrative. In fact, he doesn’t get to Dumas’ story until about 60 pages in – we first learn about his father, his mother, what the world, and specifically France and Haiti (the 2 key locations in which the novel unfolds) were like in that century (the 1700s primarily), and how the landscape changed over time.

The Black Count was actually born Thomas-Alexandre Davy de la Pailleterie (his aristocrat father’s name), but he would eventually take his slave mother’s surname when he enlisted, becoming simply Alexandre (or Alex) Dumas.

Cary Fukunaga is set to adapt and direct the Sony film. No word on casting on that project. Also no news on who will star in the Spike TV project based on “The Count of Monte Cristo.” And finally, no word on who Greenaway wants to star in his film on Dumas, the son.

Greenaway isn’t exactly a conventional, mainstream filmmaker, so I don’t expect that this will be a widely-released/widely-available film.

If you’d like to read the book, click here to pick up a copy.

Here’s a worthwhile interview with the author of “The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo.”

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