ITV Drama have commissioned a period adaptation of the novel The Scapegoat by Daphne du Maurier and will star Upstairs Downstairs co-creator Eileen Atkins.

Also starring in the drama is Matthew Rhys, who is best known for his role as Kevin Walker in the American series Brothers and Sisters. ITV say he will play the double roles of John Standing and Johnny Spence and award winning British actress Eileen Atkins, who recently starred in drama Doc Martin for ITV (pictured top right), will play his mother Lady Spence.

The 100 minute single film, produced by Island Pictures, is set in 1952, as England prepares for the coronation, The Scapegoat tells the story of two very different men, John Standing and Johnny Spence, who have one thing in common – a face. Almost exact replicas of each other they meet by chance in a station bar, each at a crossroads in their life, one setting out on a walking tour after losing his job as a teacher; the other avoiding home after a disastrous business venture.

“We’re delighted to be bringing The Scapegoat to ITV1. It’s a terrific, suspenseful script featuring characters with sinister motivations and dark secrets. We’ve wanted to adapt a Daphne Du Maurier novel for some time and we’re thrilled we now have this opportunity with The Scapegoat,” says Laura Mackie of ITV Drama, commissioning.

The charming and charismatic Johnny wines and dines his new acquaintance but when John wakes the next morning with a hangover he is alone and a chauffeur is standing outside his room, waiting to take him ‘home’. Despite his protests he finds himself sucked irresistibly into another man’s life.

The story will see one of the men stepping into his double’s shoes, inexperienced schoolmaster is suddenly responsible for a crumbling stately home, a failing business and a dog who doesn’t recognise him. Literally Lord of all he surveys, he is master of nothing and for the first time in his life, he has to deal with women, including a distraught wife, a drug taking mother, a sister who despises him, an eccentric daughter – and two mistresses one of whom happens to be married to his younger brother.

Although he tries at first to escape John find himself increasing attracted to this disparate and dysfunctional group of women and slowly his presence starts to alter the chemistry of the household. Just as he seems to be making progress however two things happen: John finds himself falling in love and his nemesis Johnny returns in secret to the house with evil intent. Filled with Du Maurier’s trademark elements of suspense, dark humor and unexpected twists the Scapegoat is a brilliant story in the tradition of the writer of Don’t Look Now, Rebecca and The Birds.

Sarah Beardsall, producer of the project, says, “The Scapegoat will take viewers on a suspenseful journey with the character of John, from friendless anonymity, to the glamour of the big house, and then to the dark reality behind it. Our ambition is to do cinematic justice to the du Maurier brand, and the very particular world that she has created. The main roles of identical ‘twins’ – so different in personality and experience – are a gift for an actor, and we’re hugely excited to have Matthew playing the parts. Coupled with a fantastic script, laced with du Maurier’s famous – and timeless – dark humour, we’re confident the film will be well received by audiences of both small and big screen.”

The Scapegoat will be released for cinema audiences following its screening on ITV. International theatrical distribution will be handled by Content Film. The film goes into production on location in London in November 2011. The Scapegoat has been adapted once for screen before. The 1958 version starred Alec Guinness and Bette Davis, and was written by Robert Hamer and Gore Vidal.

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