Roadshow Rough Diamond plans to make an eight-part international political thriller based on ABC journalist Tony Jones’ debut novel The Twentieth Man and its upcoming sequel.
The saga spans 40 years, the Vietnam and Balkan conflicts, terrorist cells in Australia and brutal yet covert power struggles in Canberra.
The protagonists are Marin Katich, son of a fascist war criminal, and Anna Rosen, a young ABC journalist and daughter of a communist.
After Marin disappears and is caught up in his father’s plans to invade and retake Croatia from the Tito government, Anna sets out to uncover the plot and save her lover.
Roadshow Rough Diamond’s John Edwards and Dan Edwards will produce the series, their third project following Stan’s Romper Stomper and the upcoming Australian Gangster for the Seven Network.
Christopher Lee (Friday on My Mind, Gallipoli) is writing the first series with Jones and the producers are already planning a second series.
“There is enough in the books for four series,” John Edwards tells IF. “It is a big, international political thriller which shows how conflicts in Europe have resonated in Australia in surprising ways, combined with a very intense, personal dimension.”
John Edwards is a lifelong friend of Jones and read the novel before it was published. He is in talks with Australian networks and, given the scope of the project, will aim to bring in an international partner. The plan is to shoot in 2019.
Lee has a long association with Edwards on a raft of series including Paper Giants: Birth Of Cleo, Howzat! Kerry Packer’s War, The Secret Life of Us and Rush.
The novel melds fiction and real events and people including the controversial former federal attorney-general Lionel Murphy, his press secretary George Negus and the former head of police intelligence Kerry Milte.
Jones said: “It’s a global whodunit that requires a global vision, an Australian story whose main characters are enmeshed in a Day of the Jackal-style assassination plot in Canberra, a manhunt in Bosnia and a love affair that takes us from Sydney to the stunning Croatian coast to a war crimes prison in The Hague.”
The Q&A and former Lateline host told The Guardian the seeds for the book were planted in 1986 when he first went to Yugoslavia as a Four Corners reporter, looking for evidence of Nazi war criminals who had concealed their past and migrated to Australia.
He discovered a Melbourne man named Srecko Rover, a wartime officer in the murderous Ustasha brotherhood who founded the Croatian Revolutionary Brotherhood in Australia.
That highly secretive group organised terrorist activities in Australia including bombings, intimidation, extortion and the training of foreign fighters for armed incursions behind the iron curtain.
“It struck me as extraordinary that such a person could have been allowed to settle here and then create an Ustasha-style brotherhood,” he said. “I thought a great deal about the young men he had indoctrinated, some of whom were sent to their deaths in the 60s and 70s on missions to stage armed rebellions deep inside Yugoslavia, against Tito’s communist regime.
“These were the seeds of The Twentieth Man. They would take root five years later when I went as a correspondent to cover the collapse of Yugoslavia and the brutal wars that resulted.”
Jones has said the sequel will follow the unlikely romance between Marin and Anna.