For me, there are two immediately interesting takeaways from the news that Steve Spielberg will be developing the religious drama “The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara.” The first is that it would mark his third collaboration with Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright and screenwriter Tony Kushner after “Munich” and “Lincoln.” The other is that the project would be a co-production between DreamWorks and The Weinstein Company.
DreamWorks, quietly celebrating a 20th anniversary this year after being concocted by entertainment magnates Spielberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg and David Geffen, saw some interesting Oscar battlefield time opposite Harvey Weinstein back in the Miramax days. Round one went to Weinstein, as “Shakespeare in Love” shocked “Saving Private Ryan” to win the Academy Award for Best Picture of 1998. But Spielberg and company won rounds two and three with “American Beauty” topping “The Cider House Rules” in 1999 and “Gladiator” blowing past “Chocolat” in 2000. (DreamWorks also co-produced the 2001 Best Picture winner, “A Beautiful Mind,” with Universal.)
The two companies did, however, enter into business a couple of times, whether developing projects that didn't happen (“Tulip Fever”) or partnering on distribution deals (“House of Sand and Fog”). Before long, the game shifted, Miramax was dried up and DreamWorks had failed to capitalize on great promise. Harvey founded a new company and Spielberg continued to be, well, Spielberg.
Anyway, “Edgardo Mortara” is based on a David Kertzer novel telling the true story of the eponymous Mortara, an Italian Jew in 1858 who “became the center of an international controversy when he was removed from his parents at the age of seven by authorities of the Papal States and raised as a Catholic,” according to the Variety report that broke the news of Spielberg's attachment. Mortara went on to become a priest in the Augustinian order.
This sort of material has recently fared very well for Weinstein. Stephen Frears' “Philomena,” about a woman's search for the illegitimate son who was taken from her by the Catholic Church when she served at an Irish convent in the 1950s, received a Best Picture nomination earlier this year and made over $100 million worldwide.
The report states that Kushner is in the early stages of writing the adaptation, so it will be a little while before we see the film. Additionally, Spielberg has a lot of options on his plate, as always. And “Robopocalypse,” according to the trade's sources, is the closest to the starting gate.