TERRE HAUTE —
Somewhere, Winston Churchill is lighting a celebratory cigar in Michael Shelden’s honor.
Churchill still fascinates people, nearly a half-century after his death.
Shelden understands that captivation, so well that his perceptiveness might soon provide British TV viewers with “their finest hour,” to borrow Churchill’s inspirational message to his countrymen on the brink of World War II. Shelden has some pretty fine hours ahead, too.
His is an English success story, with a Terre Haute setting.
English is the subject Shelden teaches as an Indiana State University professor. A gigantic figure in English culture is the subject of Shelden’s latest book, “Young Titan: The Making of Winston Churchill.” And, the hottest production company in English television — and maybe the entire planet — is preparing to turn Shelden’s book into a TV series.
Carnival Films, makers of the most critically acclaimed show in global television history, “Downton Abbey,” bought the film rights to Shelden’s book and has begun initial steps to build another period drama series. Just as “Downton Abbey” portrays the lives of a family of British aristocrats from 1912 to the 1920s, the new series would depict Churchill’s colorful, yet long-overlooked early adult years, from around 1901 to 1915. Shelden’s book illuminated that era when Churchill lived as a brash, globetrotting, romantic, war-hero-turned-liberal politician. It’s a side of Churchill few know, even in Britain.
The “Downton Abbey” masterminds see that untold story as another hit series. That’s a big deal, and Shelden realizes it.
“The company is so good, their work is almost head and shoulders above anyone else’s,” he said Monday. “I’m also sure they’ll give it the same quality as ‘Downton Abbey.’”
Carnival’s reach is Chamberlain-esque. (Wilt, not Neville.) “Downton Abbey” airs in more than 200 countries, including the U.S. on PBS. The London-based Carnival has produced series for the big United Kingdom networks, such as the BBC and ITV, and specializes in transporting those programs overseas to American markets on HBO, A&E and its international parent network, NBC/Universal. Last month, almost 10 million Brits watched the premiere of the fourth season of “Downton Abbey.” There are only 53 million people living in England.
Shelden trusts Carnival’s instincts in delivering good TV — specifically, his “Young Titan” story — to vast audiences.
“They see the cinematic potential that you only dreamed of when you were writing the book,” he said, “and that’s a great feeling.”
He had a hunch Churchill’s dramatic younger years would play well on the screen, big or small. Shelden acted on his inkling, and took the idea straight to the top of the feature film industry — the brain trust behind “Downton Abbey.” Such a move seems bold, but Shelden holds extensive street cred in the literary world. “Young Titan” marks his fifth biography, released just three years after “Mark Twain: Man in White” and published by Simon & Schuster. In addition to his professorial work at ISU, Shelden has served as a London Daily Telegraph features writer and Baltimore Sun book critic. Among numerous high-profile reviews of his Churchill biography, former NBC anchor Tom Brokaw raved, “It’s all here — the boy wonder, adventurer, romantic, orator and eloquent man in the arena. I didn’t want it to end.”
Plus, the saga of a Lincoln-like legend in Britain fits Carnival’s portfolio like a tailor-made tophat.
Despite the seemingly no-brainer, match-made-in-heaven pairing of story and producer, the unequivocal “yes” Carnival gave Shelden still leaves a hint of amazement in the writer’s voice.
“I think it was one shot in a million,” he said, “and the fact that I took it to the right place in the beginning made all the difference.”
The material is powerful.
The world remembers Churchill as the portly British leader who defied Adolf Hitler, standing in the ashes of Nazi-bombed London with a cigar jammed into the corner of his doughy cheek, promising to fight the invading regime to the death. A moral gladiator. Inspirational orator. A victor. That was Churchill at age 65, though. A quarter-century earlier, he was washed up. His meteoric rise in politics crumbled when he made one of the most dubious military miscalculations of World War I as leader of the British Navy.
The man, born of privilege, who once courted a handful of England’s greatest beauties and tackled society’s ills in Parliament, hit rock bottom at 40.
But his eventual emergence from those “wilderness years” of anonymity and depression — book-ended by the two world wars — makes Shelden’s story wildly compelling and its television-series prospects boundless.
“I actually think there’s a lot of hunger to see this on the screen,” he said.
His deal with Carnival includes an option for Shelden to serve as a production consultant. He’d love to witness its filming in historic British locations. Shelden visited Churchill’s stomping grounds, and those of his friends and acquaintances, in his research. They remain virtually intact, “absolutely unchanged since Churchill walked in the door.”
In the meantime, Carnival must find a screenwriter and a cast, including an actor to play Churchill. Already, Brits are buzzing over possible choices, according to a story in Radio Times, a classier UK answer to TV Guide. Shelden likes the interest. “You’re giving a young person, probably in their 20s, the chance of a lifetime,” he said, “and that’s exciting.”
Another opportunity for Sir Winston to light up.
Mark Bennett can be reached at 812-231-4377 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
TERRE HAUTE —
Somewhere, Winston Churchill is lighting a celebratory cigar in Michael Shelden’s honor.
- Local & Bistate
Purdue shooting leaves one person dead
A Purdue University engineering student opened fire inside a basement classroom Tuesday, killing a teaching assistant and prompting officials to put the campus on lockdown, police and the university said.
Dream of a lifetime
It was “a dream of a lifetime” for one Terre Haute woman.
THS grad Miller among students in adjacent building when shooting occurs
Kris Miller and his roommate were in a computer lab of Purdue’s mechanical engineering building Tuesday when they received a call that a shooting had occurred next door.
Bosma moves gay marriage ban bill to friendlier committee
Republican House of Representatives Speaker Brian Bosma sent a bill that proposes a constitutional ban on gay marriage to a more conservative-leaning legislature committee Tuesday, because it lacked support on the first committee to which it was assigned.
We enter the deep freeze again
If you had to step outside to get your newspaper this morning, you might have noticed it’s painfully cold once again.
Levy redirects school funds
If the new “protected levy” legislation goes into effect later this year, it would mean “a substantial reduction” in revenue for Vigo County School Corp. bus transportation, capital projects and bus replacement funds, according to the district’s chief financial officer.
School debt levy redirects funds across Indiana
School officials and state legislators from around the state are searching for ways to keep the school buses running — and children safe on the streets — pending the loss of millions of dollars for school transportation.
More than 50 school districts in Indiana stand to lose at least 20 percent of their revenues for transportation, new buses and other big-ticket projects under a new law that requires them to first pay off their debts.
VIDEO: Sen. Donnelly updates T-S editorial board
Passage of a long overdue U.S. farm bill could be completed by the end of this month, Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., said Tuesday.
Vigo coroner tries again for salary increase
After being denied last year, Vigo County Coroner Dr. Susan Amos is again seeking to have her county salary increased to match that of several other county office holders.
Homeless, renters, leasers
All kinds of housing issues come to the attention of the Terre Haute Human Relations Committee, including discrimination.
THE OFF SEASON: Something to crow about, as our neighbors return
It is in the spring, I think, that I notice crows the most. They are noisy neighbors year-round, but they come calling (I resisted saying “cawing”) in early March in earnest, and they do so before the frogs on our pond and the buds on our trees make the new season official.
MAUREEN HAYDEN: Curbing the ‘tough on crime’ mentality
Republican Sen. Brent Steele is the rock-ribbed, law-and-order chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, but he’s no ordinary conservative.
The night it rained tears
March fuels college basketball teams. Fun, glory, buzzer-beater shots and storybook endings in the NCAA Tournament await there.
POVERTY IN AMERICA: Success depends on birth location
Deb Kesler grew up poor in a single-parent family, but she knew that education was the ticket to a better life.
She and three siblings put themselves through college with grants, loans and work.
50 years after Civil Rights Act, work still to be done
This July will mark the 50th anniversary of the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 — a landmark piece of legislation that outlawed discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin.
Indian tradition welcomes colors of spring
One little corner of Deming Park got some spring colors Saturday morning when community members gathered to “play Holi,” an important tradition in India.
Students raise more than $1,100 for children’s hospital, watch school staff get heads shaved
Off with the hair!
Middle school students cheered and laughed with excitement during a school assembly Friday at Honey Creek Middle School as they watched three school administrators “go bald” to support a good cause.
Small World Learning Center hopes to save Woods preschool
A Terre Haute preschool facility on Friday night has publicly announced its offer of a merger with The Woods Day Care/Pre-School.
Hot projects on display at home show
Two-year-old Reed Clutter looked like he felt right at home as he played on a swing inside Hulman Center in downtown Terre Haute during the 2014 Home Show kick off on Friday.
VIDEO: Seuss is Loose
Ouabache Elementary School Music teacher Alison West, playing the part of Dr. Seuss' Thing 1, tosses confetti during the "Seuss is Loose" parade celebrating the end of ISTEP+ testing.
Utility seeks land for new power lines
Duke Energy is planning to install a new high-voltage power transmission line that would travel between 10 to 13 miles north to south along the Wabash River, in anticipation of the 2015 closure of its Wabash River Generation Station.
Lugar Center to offer CPR training sessions today
Staff members from Union Hospital are partnering with Clark County (Ill.) residents to offer free CPR training to interested community members.
Free cab rides offered for St. Pat’s Day
Terre Haute law firm Fleschner, Stark, Tanoos & Newlin, which has made a tradition of encouraging free cab rides home to those who have consumed too much to drive, has its eyes now on St. Patrick’s Day.
More couples challenge same-sex marriage ban
Three federal lawsuits were filed Friday against Indiana’s same-sex marriage ban, boosting the number of legal challenges to the ban’s constitutionality to at least five.
INDOT to discuss U.S. 40 upgrades in Brazil
Indiana Department of Transportation and Gradex Inc. personnel will discuss a pending upgrade of U.S. 40 through Brazil at an informational meeting at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday in the council room at Brazil City Hall, 203 E. National Ave.
Chamber still taking nominations
The Terre Haute Chamber of Commerce is accepting nominations for the 2013 Business Recognition Awards.
Vigo County Jail Log: March 14, 2014
The following individuals were booked into the Vigo County Jail by area law enforcement on Thursday and Friday, based on jail records.
2 new suits target Indiana’s gay marriage ban
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Two new federal lawsuits are taking aim at Indiana’s same-sex marriage ban, boosting to four the number of legal challenges to the law filed in a week.
Verizon new title sponsor for IndyCar
Verizon will be the new title sponsor for the IndyCar Series, replacing Izod, which left at the end of the 2013 season.
Driver in critical condition after water rescue
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Fire department divers pulled a woman from an SUV that submerged in an Indianapolis waterway after it careened off a city street.
- More Local & Bistate Headlines
- Purdue shooting leaves one person dead