Thirty years ago the actor Richard Johnson would have been a perfect choice to play Rupert Murdoch in a movie set in 1981-82, while Denis Lawson, though Scottish, would have been a shoo-in as Harold Evans, the English newspaper editor who locked horns with the Australian media mogul.
Who will play them now is a tougher call, though one could see Jason Isaacs or Ciaran Hinds as Murdoch, and Michael Sheen (who has already played Tony Blair thrice and David Frost) or Simon McBurney as Evans.
Why the speculation? The British film company What It’s All About Productions has acquired the rights to Evans’s bestseller “Good Times, Bad Times.” Reissued last September with a fresh preface by Evans in the wake of the News Corporation phone-tapping scandal, the book recounts Murdoch’s 1981 takeover of the ailing Fleet Street giant and its Sunday edition, which cost them political independence. Under Murdoch, the papers swung radically to the right.
There would potentially be a role for an actress to play the Conservative prime minister Margaret Thatcher, who met with Murdoch secretly – and improperly, Evans has said – to facilitate his acquisition of the papers; this contravened media monopoly laws since Murdoch already owned The Sun and The News of the World. Presumably Meryl Streep won’t allow lightning to strike twice by playing Thatcher again.
One of Britain’s greatest postwar editors, Evans ran the Sunday Times for 14 years from 1967, during which time the paper unmasked Kim Philby as a Soviet spy and campaigned on behalf of victims of the drug Thalidomide.
On Murdoch’s arrival, Evans was moved to The Times, but his editorship lasted only a year. His book details his volatile relationship with Murdoch, the latter’s manipulations, and his own mistakes, “the worst in my professional career.”
“The experiences I describe in ‘Good Times, Bad Times’ have turned out to be eerily emblematic,” Evans writes in the new preface. “The dark and vengeful undertow I sensed and then experienced in the last weeks of my relationship with Murdoch correctly reflected something morally out of joint with the way he ran his company.”
According to Variety, What’s It All About has yet to assign a screenwriter to the project, though Peter Morgan, who wrote the three Blair films and “Frost/Nixon,” would be a logical choice if available. The company’s creative director Leon LeCash wants to get the film into production this year.
“Recent stories surrounding Rupert Murdoch’s companies both here and in America have brought the events of almost 30 years ago back into sharp focus,” LeCash told the trade paper. “I have always realized the dramatic potential of ‘Good Times, Bad Times.’ Now, as events unfold daily, I realized the time could never be better to bring this story of ultimate justice and spiritual vindication to the screen.”