From a critically-acclaimed stage performance to a critically-acclaimed screen performance…and now back to what may be a critically-acclaimed screen performance based on that stage performance.
British actor Chiwetel Ejiofor is signed on to revive his stirring turn in the stage production of A Season in the Congo for the big screen. Ejiofor drew raves at the Young Vic in London this summer for his portrayal of Patrice Lumumba, a beer-seller and political activist who later became Congo’s first democratically elected prime minister – a position Lumumba held for a mere three months. Critics hailed his performance, describing a complexity from the actor similar to the one he displayed in a stage version of Othello in 2008, which won him a Laurence Olivier Award for Best Actor.
The film version will be helmed by Joe Wright (Atonement, Anna Karenina), who also directed Ejiofor in the stage play. A Season in the Congo is the first film from The Young Vic, a growing UK theatre now moving into the realm of adapting their stage plays into big-screen affairs. Although it is set to shoot in Kinshasa, no screenwriter has signed on to adapt Aimé Césaire’s 1966 play.
Ejiofor was one of the UK’s most unsung heroes of acting, drawing strong reviews and awards for Dirty Pretty Things and Kinky Boots. Best known to mainstream audiences as Denzel Washington’s buddy detective in Inside Man, the actor has catapulted to the front of the Best Actor Oscar race for 12 Years a Slave, the winner of the People’s Choice Award at the Toronto International Film Festival.
With surefire Oscar buzz for 12 Years a Slave and one of the UK’s finest directors behind him for this new project (anyone who has seen Anna Karenina knows that Wright has a unique vision for blending the realms of stage and cinema), Chiwetel Ejiofor may soon become a name that mainstream crowds across the Atlantic will recognize. And, hopefully, know how to pronounce. (It’s “chew-i-tell edge-ee-o-for,’ people.)
No release date has been set for A Season in the Congo, although with such presences in front of and behind the camera, don’t be surprised for a release (and subsequent Oscar run) next fall.