war magician

Benedict Cumberbatch is going from Sorcerer Supreme to War Magician. The actor will star in the new film from Jurassic World director Colin Trevorrow, based on the true-ish story of Jasper Maskelyne, a world-famous magician and illusionist who used his stage skills to help the British Army during World War II. The story was turned into a book by David Fisher.

Deadline has the scoop on War Magician, a new film from director Colin Trevorrow that will star Benedict Cumberbatch. The film is based on the story of “Jasper Maskelyne, a British illusionist who used magic to defeat Erwin Rommel in World War II.” Deadline adds that “Trevorrow’s take features an international ‘magic gang’ from Africa, Europe and the Middle East who conspired with Maskelyne and a female military intelligence officer to defeat the Nazis.”

Nicholas Mariani is writing the script, based on the book by David Fisher. The book, published in 1983, has the following synopsis:

Jasper Maskelyne was a world famous magician and illusionist in the 1930s. When war broke out, he volunteered his services to the British Army and was sent to Egypt where the desert war had just begun. He used his skills to save the vital port of Alexandria from German bombers and to ‘hide’ the Suez Canal from them. He invented all sorts of camouflage methods to make trucks look like tanks and vice versa. On Malta he developed ‘the world’s first portable holes’: fake bomb craters used to fool the Germans into thinking they had hit their targets. His war culminated in the brilliant deception plan that won the Battle of El Alamein: the creation of an entire dummy army in the middle of the desert.

Now here’s the catch. The War Magician book was originally published as non-fiction. However, in the years since its publication, there have been serious questions raised about the contents of the book. Several historians who studied the story have said that much of it is exaggerated and that Maskelyne’s contributions to the war effort were “marginal.”

This question of authenticity actually got in the way of a previous incarnation of the film. Back in the early 2000s, Master and Commander director Peter Weir was supposed to direct a War Magician movie starring Tom Cruise. However, as Weir dug deeper into the story, he ran into problems of authenticity, saying: “I’ve avoided biographical material so far, and if I was to break my own rule I had to proceed from a solid factual base. That was not possible.” In other words, Weir found the story too implausible and ended up dropping out of the movie. Ever since then, it’s remained dormant, but now it looks to be picking up steam again.

Questions of truthfulness aside, the story of a stage magician using his magic skills to help fight the war sounds like it has a lot of potential. That said, I’d be much more interested if a filmmaker of Weir’s caliber was still handling this material as opposed to Trevorrow.

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