The true story of Jasper Maskelyne, whose magician skills aided the Allied forces in the effort to win World War II, is being made into a feature film, with Academy Award nominee Benedict Cumberbatch (Black Mass) slated to star in the vehicle, according to Deadline.
At one point, Tom Cruise was attached to star as Maskelyne in a Paramount-backed project which never came to fruition.
Based on David Fisher’s book of the same name with Gary Whitta (Book of Eli) adapting the screenplay, The War Magician follows the story of Maskelyne (Cumberbatch), a world famous magician and illusionist in the 1930s. He volunteered his services to the British Army when war broke out and was sent to Egypt where the desert war had just begun. He assembled a group of other illusionists and together and created what the master magician termed “the mass production of tricks, swindles and devices.” Using their illusionist skills, they ‘hid’ the Alexandria harbor and the Suez Canal from German bombers, shielded machine gun nests using mirrors, made trucks look like tanks and vice versa, created fake bomb craters to fool the enemy into thinking they had hit their targets, and created the appearance of an entire army in the middle of the desert to Nazi spy planes overhead.
Storyscape Entertainment’s Bob Cooper and Richard Saperstein, and Tony Eldridge’s Lonetree Entertainment are producing, along with Adam Ackland and Adam Selves from Cumberbatch’s production company, SunnyMarch.
The project is coming out of Studiocanal, which has previously worked with Cumberbatch. Studiocanal International EVP production Ron Halpern: said, “Both Imitation Game and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy were phenomenal successes for Studio Canal, and we are thrilled to be in business with Benedict Cumberbatch on this extraordinary project.”
Cumberbatch, fresh off his box office and critical success as Hamlet on the London stage, is currently filming Marvel’s Doctor Strange in which he plays the titular sorcerer. Doctor Strange will be released by Disney next year on November 16. The actor shot to fame in 2010 playing Sherlock Holmes on the British TV series Sherlock created by Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat, and since then has kept busy in multiple films including Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Oscar-nominated film War Horse, Oscar-nominated film 12 Years a Slave, The Fifth Estate, August: Osage County, and this year’s Black Mass opposite Johnny Depp. He starred as the villain Khan in J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek Into Darkness and was nominated for an Oscar for his starring role as Alan Turing in last year’s The Imitation Game. He voiced the dragon Smaug in Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit trilogy and will also be doing voice work as the character of Shere Kahn on Andy Serkis’ Jungle Book: Origins, slated for release on October 6, 2017.
The War Magician will shoot in Europe and the Middle East.