Richard Ayoade submerges himself in Dostoyevsky, Gillian Armstrong finds the comedy in Catherine the Great, and Anton Corbijn eyes a John Le Carre spy novel.
14 Feb 2012 - 4:00 PM  UPDATED 5 Nov 2012 - 9:30 PM

There is no shortage of filmmakers who make impressive feature debuts and then forge onwards into an ambitious second film, only to come unstuck when circumstance and material don't combine so elegantly. Think of Steven Soderbergh, who went from the epochal Sex, Lies, and Videotape to the barely remembered Kafka, or in Australia Geoffrey Wright and the letdown that occurred when the inconsequential follow-up to Romper Stomper, Metal Skin, was released.

The latest contender may be Richard Ayoade (pictured), the English comic who proved to have a sure eye for tone and a feel for the blackly comic potential of his character's lives in 2010's Submarine. Ayoade has moved on from the Welsh schoolyard, undertaking a film adaptation of Fyodor Dostoyevsky's 1846 novella The Double: A Petersburg Poem. It's the story of an Imperial Russian clerk, Yakov Petrovich Golyadkin, who wonders if he is going mad when he encounters a more confident, assertive version of himself that begins to supplant him.

If Dostoyevsky sounds like a tough sell, calling it (as some already have) a 19th century Fight Club helps, although Ayoade's trump card is his cast: as Golyadkin he has Jesse Eisenberg (The Social Network), who has made unease with the world something of a defining trait, while the female lead will be played by young Australian expatriate Mia Wasikowska (Alice in Wonderland, The Kids Are All Right). The latter is having another banner year, with performances for Oldboy's Park Can-wook (Stoker) and The Road's John Hillcoat (Wettest County) already in post-production.

Czarist Russia is so hot right now: Veteran Australia director Gillian Armstrong (Oscar and Lucinda) will make The Great, an irreverent comedy about the reign of the 18th century Russian ruler Catherine the Great, the Prussian-born aristocrat and widow who ended up turning her late husband's homeland into a European power. Annette Bening (American Beauty) will play the long serving monarch from a script by Australian playwright Tony McNamara (who himself has never gotten around to directing a second feature after his underrated 2003 debut The Rage in Placid Lake).

Another Australian playwright with a screenplay credit for a major international production is Andrew Bovell, whose previous screen works include Lantana. He's now adapted John Le Carre's 2008 novel A Most Wanted Man, the German-set story of espionage and money laundering in the age of the war on terror, for Dutch rock photographer turned director Anton Corbijn (Control, The American). The first actor announced for the cast is Philip Seymour Hoffman (Capote), and it's worth considering just how many fine films have already been made via Le Carre's texts, from Martin Ritt's The Spy Who Came in From the Cold in 1965 to last month's take on Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy by Tomas Alfredson. Add in Fred Schepisi's The Russia House and Fernando Meirelles' The Constant Gardener and that's a serious benchmark for Corbijn and Bovell.