Atkinson, Howitt set for ‘Copperfield’

Having proved his status again as a worldwide draw even without mastering American auds, “Mr. Bean’s Holiday” star Rowan Atkinson is set to reunite with his “Johnny English” director Peter Howitt for a version of Charles Dickens’ “David Copperfield.”

“Holiday” has made $157 million overseas but won’t open in the U.S. until Aug. 31.

The $30 million “Copperfield” project is being lined up to shoot in early 2008. Howitt and his producing partner Richard Johns are making the film through their production company Flaming Pie Films.

Simon Crowe’s financing and sales company Velvet Octopus will start pre-sales at the Cannes market this month. The U.K. Film Council’s Premiere Fund is also lining up to back the project.

In “Copperfield,” Atkinson will play Mr. Micawber, Copperfield’s landlord and one of Dickens’ most famous comic characters, eternally and irrationally optimistic as he slides toward financial ruin.

Micawber was played by W.C. Fields in George Cukor’s 1935 movie. That pic was the last bigscreen adaptation of the novel, although it has been made numerous times since for TV.

Howitt, who co-wrote the “Copperfield” script with Douglas McFerran, originally developed the project under his first-look deal with Miramax and Intermedia just after his debut hit with “Sliding Doors” in 1998. It subsequently came back to him in turnaround.

“This is a very fresh adaptation of the novel, not the chocolate-boxy, stolid version of Dickens that we are used to,” Johns said. “It won’t be mannered or reverential. With Dickens, filmmakers have been trapped in this place where you have caricatured characters, but Peter wants to deal with them like real people.”

Howitt has just finished shooting “Dangerous Parking,” a low-budget Brit comedy financed by the cast, crew and private investors. Velvet Octopus is handling international sales for the movie, which will premiere at the London U.K. Film Focus in June.