Paul Greengrass' Memphis Trip Delayed

Universal drop Martin Luther King biopic

Paul Greengrass' plan to return to the real-life drama territory of Bloody Sunday and United 93 has hit problems, with the news from Deadline that Universal have pulled out of his planned Martin Luther King project Memphis.

The film was announced as in development in January, and Universal picked it up last month, but have now backtracked citing concerns over scheduling. There are rumblings though that the King estate were unhappy with the project and had made their feelings clear to the studio, threatening to publicly denounce the screenplay.

Greengrass' script apparently deals with the run-up to King's assassination on April 4th 1968, when King headed to Memphis to support striking sanitation workers and delivered his "I've been to the mountaintop" speech. These were troubled times for King, who was drinking and smoking heavily and whose marriage was foundering. Without seeing the script it's pure speculation, but it seems as if the King family may well have objected to elements focusing on King's eye for the ladies and fondness for the demon alcohol.

Which is obviously a shame, since it ought to be entirely possible to make an inspirational film about King's profound influence on worldwide civil rights, whilst at the same time admitting to his personal all-too-human flaws. Lee Daniels' Selma has also stalled for seemingly similar reasons. Is it really true that the King estate will not abide anything short of a hagiography?

All may not be lost for Memphis though, since Greengrass and producer Scott Rudin are now shopping the project around to other backers. Given the track record of both of them, there's every chance they'll be heading down to Tennessee at some point after all.