It’s curious that during World War Two both types of magicians were involved in the War Effort. There were stage magicians like Jasper Maskelyne who used stage magic and illusions to trick the Nazis, and then you have the OTHER sort, where in 1940 hundreds of witches and such went to the New Forest in the South of England, so they could get naked and broadcast telepathic messages in a “Cone of Power” to keep Hitler from invading the UK.
Unfortunately in the latter example, several people who were alleged to be involved in the nude wizardry didn’t take into account the English climate, leading to several contracting pneumonia and dying ‘cause they didn’t rub themselves with goose grease to keep the chill out.
This isn’t even getting into Aleister Crowley’s offer to use magic against the forces of fascism, though with Crowley it’s unclear whether he was being serious or not. Dude had a habit of saying and doing stuff purely to get a reaction out of people.
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)
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 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.
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.
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.
Benedict Cumberbatch attached to star in The War Magician
Though you might think he’ll have had his fill of the mystical arts after starring in Doctor Strange, it appears Benedict Cumberbatch is happy to keep on with the magic act for a different role. He’s attached to star in The War Magician.
It’s the story of real-life magician and illusionist Jasper Maskelyne, who, along with a group of colleagues dubbed The Magic Gang, became an integral part of a unit focused on the action along the Suez Canal in World War II. He devised ingenious – and very large scale – illusion systems that virtually made tanks invisible from the air, hid whole buildings full of ammunition and supplies, and even made an entire city vanish and reappear several miles away. Maskelyne joined the Royal Engineers at the start of the war, thinking that his skills could be used to create camouflage. He convinced skeptical officers by creating the illusion of a German warship on the Thames using only mirrors and a model. The military eventually deployed him to the North African theatre in the Western Desert, although he spent most of his time there entertaining the troops. But his work was enough that he ended up on Hitler’s personal blacklist.
This one has been in the works for a while, with Tom Cruise and Paramount buying the rights to David Fisher’s eponymous non-fiction book back in 2001. Since then, little has happened beyond Marc Forster flirting with directing the film and, as it stands now, it’s in the hands of StudioCanal with Book Of Eli writer and Rogue One contributor Gary Whitta on screenplay duty. No director is currently attached, and there’s a ways to go with the film, not least because it’ll have to wait for Cumberbatch to be finished with his Strange work.
I think Tumblr would like Jasper Maskelyne. He was basically an enormous troll.
Unfortunately all the information I know about him is some huge academic book that we had to get on inter-library loan from Iowa or something, a video-taped documentary series I watched incessantly when I was twelve, and Churchill’s Wizards, my copy of which I cannot find.