FremantleMedia Australia acquires Richard Flanagan’s WW2 novel

Richard Flanagan accepting the Man Booker Prize (Photo credit: ABC)

Richard Flanagan’s acclaimed novel The Narrow Road to the Deep North will be turned into a drama series by FremantleMedia Australia (FMA).

Published in 2013, the tome opens in 1943 at the Japanese prisoner-of-war camp on the infamous Thai-Burma railway, which was also the subject of Jonathan Teplitzy’s movie The Railway Man.

The protagonist is Australian surgeon Dorrigo Evans, who is haunted by his love affair with his uncle’s young wife Amy two years earlier. Evans struggles to save the men under his command from starvation, cholera and torture. After the war he is hailed as a hero but cannot overcome his sense of guilt and failings.

The novel also examines the post-war lives of other Aussies and the Japanese and Korean prison guards while posing the question: What would you do if you saw the love of your life, whom you thought dead, walking towards you?

The winner of the 2014 Man Booker Prize, the book was widely praised. The literary editor of The Washington Post said: “Nothing since Cormac McCarthy’s The Road has shaken me like this … this is a classic work of war fiction from a world-class writer.”

The Financial Times hailed it as “nothing short of a masterpiece” while The Observer called it a novel of extraordinary power.

Flanagan’s father Arch was one of the Australian prisoners-of-war who were forced to work by the Japanese Army on the so-called ‘Death Railway,’ which was built in 1943 to supply Japan’s campaign against the Allies in Burma.

Accepting the award, Flanagan said: “A year-and-a-half ago when I finished this book, I was contemplating going to get what work I could in the mines in far northern Australia because things had come to such a pass with my writing. I had spent so long on this book.”

FMA director of drama Jo Porter said: “The Narrow Road to the Deep North is a compelling universal story that has stayed with me since I first read it. Rich with insights on the human condition, it is ripe for screen adaptation with huge visual potential and scale.

“At its core is an achingly powerful examination of the many forms of love, forged through the crucible of war. FremantleMedia Australia is proud to be adapting Richard Flanagan’s brilliant novel for the screen, and we are confident, like this beloved novel, it will resonate with audiences all around the world.”

Flanagan expressed his delight that the novel is to become a major international TV series “in this age of great television drama, promising the quality, the depth, and the occasional brilliance of which the form is now capable.”

FMA has yet to reveal a commissioning broadcaster or any of the creative personnel. The project is part of FremantleMedia’s global push into high-end drama following FMA’s Picnic at Hanging Rock.

Euston Films and UFA Fiction have secured the rights to Robert Harris’ latest novel Munich and UFA Fiction is working with director Michael Haneke to produce his first ever TV series, Kelvin’s Book.

BBC1 has commissioned from Euston Films the series The Dublin Murders based on Tana French’s novels In the Woods and The Likeness.