‘Prisoner in His Palace,’ Film About Saddam Hussein’s Final Days, Set by ‘Chernobyl’ Director Johan Renck, Fremantle

From nuclear fallout to the fall of a dictator.

Johan Renck, the Swedish director who won an Emmy for his work on hit miniseries Chernobyl, is to turn his attention to the final days of Saddam Hussein for the feature film The Prisoner in His Palace. Based on Will Bardenwerper’s best-selling book, The Prisoner in His Palace: Saddam Hussein, His American Guards, and What History Leaves Unsaid, the story is an account of the 12 U.S. soldiers who guarded the ousted former Iraqi leader in the months before his execution.

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The feature is one of a number of projects under a new partnership between Fremantle and Sinestra, the production banner launched by Renck and producer Michael Parets (Spaceman).

The Prisoner in His Palace will be produced by Parets and Renck for Sinestra in partnership with Fremantle and is being developed for Renck to direct. Bardenwerper, a former Airborne Ranger-qualified infantry officer, will serve as executive producer. Author and screenwriter Darby Kealey is set to adapt the book, which is co-represented by Zoë Pagnamenta and Anonymous Content.

The book is woven from multiple firsthand accounts and explores the two very different Saddam Husseins coexisting in one person: the defiant tyrant who uses torture and murder as tools, and a shrewd but contemplative prisoner who exhibits surprising affection, dignity and courage in the face of looming death. In Bardenwerper’s narrative, Saddam, the “man without a conscience,” gets many of those around him to examine theirs.

“Will Bardenwerper astonished us with his fearless examination of the paradox that was Saddam Hussein,” said Parets. “While not shying away from the profound cruelty of Saddam’s reign, Will ushers us into unsettling intimacy with the perplexingly real human being behind the scepter. It is a challenging and vital book, we couldn’t be more grateful to our friends at Fremantle for their continued support and partnership.”

Added Christian Vesper, CEO of global drama at Fremantle: “The Prisoner in His Palace is a fascinating and intimate portrait of one of history’s most infamous and controversial figures, told through the eyes of his captors. Michael and Johan are the perfect creative team to bring Will Bardenwerper’s unique and powerful human story sensitively to the screen, and we are so excited to partner with them on this exceptional film.”

Under the first-look partnership unveiled last year, Sinestra is working with Fremantle to develop a slate of high-end series, including an adaptation of the highly acclaimed novel Mouth to Mouth, listed as one of Barack Obama’s favorite books of 2022. The first-look deal was brokered by Vesper and Seb Shorr, executive vp, commercial & business affairs, scripted at Fremantle and Renck’s team at Casarotto Ramsey & Associates, CAA, Black Bear Pictures and Sloane Offer.

Alongside Chernobyl — which won 10 Emmy awards from 19 nominations —  Renck directed all episodes and co-produced the BAFTA nominated limited series The Last Panthers, and also directed pilots and episodes of the popular TV series Vikings, Bloodline, Shut Eye, Breaking Bad, The Walking Dead, Halt and Catch Fire and Bates Motel. He most recently directed the feature film Spaceman, which will be released by Netflix this year starring Adam Sandler, Carey Mulligan and Paul Dano.

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