Benedict Cumberbatch to Star in World War II Epic 'The War Magician' - Hollywood Reporter

Benedict Cumberbatch is attached to star in The War Magician, a World War II epic tale that Studio Canal is financing.

Cumberbatch will portray British hero Jasper Maskelyne, the titular magician whose clever illusions helped the Allied forces fight against the Nazis during World War II.

When Sherlock appeared on the BBC and I saw Benedict Cumberbatch for the first time I immediately called Tony and said, “This is the guy, he’s going to be a huge star and he’s the only person to play this character.” It took several years from that point and we jumped through a lot of hoops, I wrote Benedict a personal letter urging him to take the part and eventually took some time out from working on Star Wars in London last year to pitch him the movie at the offices of his production company, but we eventually got him and that’s when the movie became real.
—  Gary Whitta, the screen writer of THE WAR MAGICIAN, on Benedict Cumberbatch taking the role of Jasper Maskelyne. (c)
Jasper Maskelyne: Gentleman, Soldier, Magician

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Jasper Maskelyne was one of an established family of stage magicians.

In January 1941, General Archibald Wavell created A Force for subterfuge and counterintelligence. Maskelyne was assigned to serve in it and gathered a group of 14 assistants, including an architect, art restorer, carpenter, chemist, electrical engineer, electrician, painter, and stage-set builder. It was nicknamed the Magic Gang.

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The Magic Gang built a number of illusions. They used painted canvas and plywood to make jeeps look like tanks — with fake tank tracks — and tanks look like trucks. They created illusions of armies and battleships.

His largest illusion was to conceal Alexandria and the Suez Canal to misdirect German bombers. He built a mockup of the night-lights of Alexandria in a bay three miles away with fake buildings, lighthouse, and anti-aircraft batteries. To mask the Suez Canal he built a revolving cone of mirrors that created a wheel of spinning light nine miles wide, meant to dazzle and disorient enemy pilots so that their bombs would fall off-target.

He died in 1973 after having moved to Kenya.

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My interest in Jasper comes on the heels of learning about HBO’s new series, Hobgoblin.

The potential series centers on a group of magicians and con men who use their skills at deception to battle Hitler and his forces during World War II.

The classic story of magicians fighting nazis. I’m guessing this is somewhat inspired by Jasper. 

Supposedly, this show is to be written by Michael Chabon and directed by Darren Aronofsky.

I hope this sees the light of day. 

Benedict Cumberbatch to Star in WWII Drama ‘The War Magician’


Benedict Cumberbatch will star in World War II drama “The War Magician” — a project that’s been in development since 2003.

Storyscape Entertainment principals Bob Cooper and Richard Saperstein have attached the British actor to the project with StudioCanal on board to finance and distribute in its territories. The project, based on David Fisher’s fact-based novel, will be be adapted by “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” writer Gary Whitta.

“The War Magician” will be a co-production between Storyscape Entertainment, Tony Eldridge’s Lonetree Entertainment and Cumberbatch’s own production company SunnyMarch, with SunnyMarch partners Adam Ackland and Adam Selves producing.

No director is attached yet.

Tom Cruise and producing partner Paul Wagner originally optioned the book in 2003 and attached Peter Weir to direct. In 2012, Marc Forster was attached to direct, but fell out of the project.

Cumberbatch will play the titular British hero Jasper Maskelyne, the magician whose illusions helped the allied forces fight against the Nazis during World War II. Maskelyne put together a “dirty dozen” of accomplices known as “The Magic Gang,” who were able to make tanks, troops and buildings seem to disappear, along with conjuring phony armies.

Maskelyne and his associates also managed conceal the Alexandria harbor and the Suez Canal, where there were 150,000 men with 1,000 guns and tanks, turning the tide of the war against General Rommel and the Germans in North Africa.

He created a bogus Alexandria harbor that attracted most of the nightly bombing raids and shielded troops in the Suez through anti-aircraft searchlights and mirrors that blinded Nazi pilots. Maskelyne’s techniques resulted in Adolf Hitler adding him to his personal blacklist alongside men like Douglas MacArthur and British Field Marshall Bernard Montgomery.

Cumberbatch received a best actor Oscar nomination for his role as codebreaker Alan Turing in “The Imitation Game” last year.

Cooper told Variety that discussions with Cumberbatch about the role of Maskelyne began last year while “The Imitation Game” was gathering steam for its awards season campaign.

“The Maskelyne character is so different from the one that Benedict portrayed in ‘The Imitation Game’ in that Maskelyne was very outgoing and confident,” Cooper said. “We think this is a perfect blend of acting talent with material.”

Ron Halpern, StudioCanal’s exec VP of international production, said, “Both ‘Imitation Game’ and ‘Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy’ were phenomenal successes for StudioCanal, and we are thrilled to be in business with Benedict Cumberbatch on this extraordinary project.”

Producers are planning to shoot in locations throughout Europe and the Middle East. UTA packaged the project and negotiated the financing arrangement along with John Grant of Conway van Gelder Grant.

Whitta co-wrote the upcoming “Star Wars” standalone movie “Rogue One” with Chris Weitz and the TV series “Star Wars Rebels.” He is currently adapting the Mark Millar comic “Starlight” for Fox and producer Simon Kinberg.

Storyscape Entertainment is a new joint venture between Cooper and Saperstein as a film and television production company with a recent first-look feature deal with Broad Green Pictures. Its projects include “FBI Wedding” at Universal with Jason Bateman starring and directing and “Stealing Time” at DreamWorks with Tim Dowling writing and Colin Trevorrow executive producing.

Cooper recently wrapped production on “Maudie,” starring Ethan Hawke and Sally Hawkins, and Saperstein recently began pre-production on the remake of “The Blob,” starring Samuel L. Jackson.

Eldridge teamed with Escape Artists to produce Sony’s “The Equalizer” with Denzel Washington starring and is attached to produce the sequel.

Besides “The Imitation Game,” StudioCanal’s credits include Tom Hardy’s “Legend,” “Paddington” and “Shaun the Sheep.”


Jasper Maskelyne

(1902 – 1973)

La fraude occulta della scienza bellica inglese 

Nato in una famiglia di trasformisti, Jasper si guadagna la vita con i giuochi di destrezza 

Durante la guerra tiene allegre le brigate con arti da sollazzo ed ogni maniera di piacevolezza 

Jasper è convinto di poter essere utile alla patria applicando i “trucchi di famiglia” alla perizia delle manovre militari

Le sue macchinazioni, accolte dapprima con un certo discredito, convincono il genio militare a delegargli una piccola ma indipendente brigata che chiamerà 

La Banda dei Miracoli 

Da quel momento la sua vicenda diventa leggendaria

Al servizio del Secret Intelligence Service ideò artifizi di mimetizzazione su larga scala per depistare i bombardieri tedeschi, come

La Sparizione del Canale di Suez

Lo spostamento del porto di Alessandria qualche miglio più in là, tramite una riproduzione in paglia e fango

Creò armate e flottiglie fantasma nelle fasi più drammatiche della campagna del Nordafrica fino al 1942, quando giocando a rimpiattino col controspionaggio imbrogliò il generale Rommel realizzando dal nulla il suo capo d’opera

Un esercito di cartone in prima linea con carri armati gonfiabili, paracadutisti di carta e trasporti-truppe di marzapane

Le sorti della guerra falsate dalla più grande beffa della storia dell’arte operativa militare

“Gli incartamenti ufficiali su Maskelyne nelle mani del governo britannico saranno resi pubblici solo nel 2021”

Ma Jasper, di alto e generoso sentire, è già memorabile


La distinta carica del senso del ridicolo

Grazia prodigiosa