Movie maker takes Butcher’s book at Coe and Ovett

The Coe and Ovett track rivalry of 30 years ago is set to hit the big screen.

BBC Films announced today the production of a screenplay based on The Perfect Distance, an account of the rivalry between Steve Ovett and Sebastian Coe by former Times athletics correspondent Pat Butcher.

On his globerunner blog, Butcher writes:

“Three years ago, in his then regular Guardian column, Steve Cram, the man who took over the world record mantle from Coe and Ovett, was bemoaning the lack of any sort of cinematic vehicle of the trio’s feats, which might help kick-start the largely moribund British middle distance scene, and incite the current crop of milers to emulate their illustrious predecessors.

“Cram was musing on what had revived US middle and long distance running, and wondered, ‘in 1997 and 1998 two movies about the American athletic icon Steve Prefontaine hit the screens in the US. Pre died tragically in a car crash arguably at the height of his powers and although he never won an Olympic medal he has long carried the flame of American running dreams. No doubt one or two of those performing so well now had sat in their multiplex as youngsters and taken it all in. I’m not totally convinced it would get funding from UK Sport but a remake of the Three Musketeers set on the tracks of Europe in the 1980s might just do the trick for us. You never know’.”

Today, BBC Films issued the following announcement:

“BBC Films and AL Films are developing a film together about the celebrated Olympic rivalry between Steve Ovett and Sebastian Coe, arguably the greatest athletics rivalry of all time.

“The film is due to be released prior to London 2012 Olympics. Joanna Anderson and Vicky Licorish of AL Films, the producers behind BBC 1’s recent hit Small Island, have signed up LA-based Brit writer William Davies (Flushed Away, Johnny English, Twins) to write the screenplay. ‘Will is a fantastic writer who is a keen sportsman. He has been fired up by this story which means so much to a UK audience and is the British Olympic story which also gripped the US,’ says Anderson.

“Coe and Ovett ran in the Moscow and LA Olympics; they dominated world athletics for several years and had very contrasting personalities. ‘You were either an Ovett person or a Coe person,’ says Vicky Licorish, ‘and that’s what makes it such a great character piece as well.’

“Christine Langan, Creative Director BBC Films, says, ‘This is a gem of a story, about British sporting life and more. Will’s take on it is very exhilarating and BBC Films is excited to be developing it with him and AL Films’.”

Such a movie will be the first British athletics-based film since the Oscar-winning Chariots of Fire, which owed some of its popularity to the high profile enjoyed by the sport in the early 1980s because of the Ovett-Coe rivalry. And given Lord Coe’s role in winning the 2012 Olympics for London, this will undoubtedly give the film an added twist.

One outstanding question, though, is who will be cast in the key roles of press box regulars for that era, Neil Wilson, Colin Hart and Dave Cocksedge.