Annika Glac and Robyn Kershaw.

Marie Curie, the Polish-born physicist and chemist who conducted pioneering research on radioactivity, is often portrayed on screen and in books as stuffy, cold and asexual.

That characterisation is unfair and inaccurate, according to Polish/Australian filmmaker Annika Glac, who aims to set the record straight in her biopic Radiant.

The drama will focus on the Nobel Prize winner from the time she won the top prize in chemistry and physics at Sorbonne University through her marriage to Pierre Curie, his death and her subsequent affair with married Frenchman Paul Langevin.

“When I read her letters to Pierre, they were so touching, passionate and beautiful,” Glac tells IF. “She had a delicate psychology which you never see in the films and documentaries that were made about her.”

Producer Robyn Kershaw, who met the writer-director through a mutual friend, is raising the finance from Polish, French and German partners and plans to start shooting in Krakow, Paris and Australia in February. The cast will be a mixture of Europeans and Australians.

Radiant captures the spirit of an utterly modern woman, a dramatized story about love, adversity and triumph,” Kershaw says. “It is an authored, intimate portrayal, not a traditional biopic.

“Everything about Marie was disruptive: her gender, her partnership with her scientific savant husband Pierre, her single-minded pursuit of scientific discovery, her juggling of career with motherhood and being the first woman to receive one Nobel prize, and then another.

“Surviving her re-invention after Pierre’s sudden death and the scandal of her very public relationship with a married man, Marie realises the battle is not with the male establishment but with the power unleashed by her radioactive discoveries.”

The screenplay was among the recipients of the $20,000 Alfred P. Sloan Fast Track Grant awarded during the Los Angeles Film Festival in 2017.

The cinematographer Marcus Struzina, who is Glac’s partner in production company Glass Kingdom, is tossing up whether to use a Red Camera or Arri Alexa.

Helena Rubinstein.

Kershaw and Glac are also developing Helena I Am, a 6-part TV drama based on the life of Helena Rubinstein, the cosmetics entrepreneur who was banished to outback Australia. Without an education, she became an icon of creative capitalism and the world’s richest woman.

Told in flashbacks, the series will span 60 years, from the protagonist’s early 20s in Poland to her late 80s, when she was robbed in her New York apartment. There will be two actors, one to play the younger Helena, the other the elderly.

Annika plans to assemble an all-female team of directors, including herself. “”Helena comes from a tight Hasidic community in Krakow, is in love with a Gentile and does not want to get married,” she says. “The stars aligned for her as she provided something women wanted and she found love and a sense of connection.”

The producer aims to finance the production with European and Canadian partners after pitching the project earlier this year at the TAP program held in Berlin and Halifax, Nova Scotia, an initiative which supports trans-Atlantic film and high-end TV dramas. Her participation at those events was supported by Screen Australia and Screenwest.

Co-incidentally, Studiocanal’s Australia and New Zealand’s Cultivator Fund is developing Helena, a biopic set in 1928 when Rubinstein faced a cruel dilemma: surrender control of her empire or lose her marriage with Edward Titus and her children.

Scripted by Katherine Thomson for producers Antony Waddington and Marcus Gillezeau, that project is close to going out to the market.

Formerly a classical pianist and theatre director, Annika started making short films after graduating from the Victorian College of the Arts.

Her debut feature, Belladonna (2009) was an Australian-Polish co-production, a love story which starts in 16th century Poland and reconnects with present day Australia.

That was followed by Bunny (2014), a Polish-set comedy drama which was awarded the jury prize in the Cannes Film Festival’s Cinephile section and screened across Europe on Canal Plus.

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