Burns love life movie revived by actor's success as a Spartan

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SCOTLAND'S national bard owes a posthumous debt to one of the bloodiest war films ever made.

The phenomenal success of the film 300 - which dramatises a battle between a small contingent of Spartan warriors and a huge Persian army 2,500 years ago - is good news for Robert Burns and the producers who have been fighting a losing battle to interest financiers in a movie about him for years.

Insiders raved about the script, which focuses on his sexual adventures that scandalised polite Scottish society, and Johnny Depp was reportedly interested in the lead role.

The producers eventually plumped for Gerard Butler, who publicly lobbied for the part way back in 2001 and was officially confirmed at the Cannes Film Festival three years ago.

But they simply could not raise 5m for a film about an 18th-century Scottish poet with a star whose movies regularly fell short of expectations - including the big-budget big-screen version of The Phantom Of The Opera.

Last year the movie, which has the working title of Burns, was officially described as being "on the back-burner". But it is up and running again, following the success of 300, which stars Butler as the Spartan hero Leonidas. It has topped box-office charts around the world, grossed 100m in 10 days and opened in the UK this weekend.

Glasgow-born Butler, 37, is now being inundated with big-money Hollywood offers and it would have been easy for him to walk away from the Burns project. But last week he confirmed he was still fully committed to the film.

"It's still a project that Gerry is hoping to be part of," said Rupert Fowler, his publicist.

His renewed commitment comes as no surprise to the film's producers. "It's a great passion project for him," said producer Andrew Boswell. "He regards it as the role he was born to play. We think the same."

The producers have dusted off the script and are looking for financial backing, with a view to shooting the film next year and releasing it to coincide with the 250th anniversary of Burns' birth in 2009.

The film will focus on Burns' personal life, his sudden success and the celebrity treatment he got in Edinburgh.

Alan Sharp, the Scottish writer of the film Rob Roy, said: "It's not particularly about the genius poet, it's difficult to dramatise poetry. It's about a provincial boy who comes to the big smoke and runs riot... he was like a sexual maniac."

The film will portray his relationship with a series of women: Jean Armour, the Ayrshire girl who became his wife; the tragic Highland Mary, with whom he planned a new life in Jamaica; Edinburgh society hostess Agnes McLehose, who used the name Clarinda in love letters to the poet; and her servant Jenny Clow, with whom Burns had a son.

Boswell said he was hopeful 300 would help get Burns made. The producer added: "It's great news for everyone and Gerry Butler in particular. It should be beneficial to the project and it will certainly not do us any harm."

The revised budget is likely to be at least 5m.

Having had so much difficulty over funding in the past, no one is making any rash statements this time round.

Boswell said: "It's up to the film financing market and it will be the decision of others whether or not this film happens. All we can do is put together the most attractive package and promote it in the best possible way."

Julia Stiles was lined up to play Jean Armour and Kathleen McDermott was pencilled in as Jenny Clow, with other Scots actors clamouring for roles.

James Cosmo, the veteran character actor whose credits range from The Battle Of Britain to Braveheart and Trainspotting, has been a key figure both as producer and actor, and Brian Cox and John Hannah have also committed to the film.

Murdo Morrison, honorary president and spokesman for the Robert Burns World Federation, welcomed the news that the film was back on track and has no qualms about the focus on Burns' love life.

"That's fair enough and totally acceptable," Morrison said. "The only plea that the Burns Federation would make is that the film would follow a line of authenticity, because with anything of that nature it is so easy to 'Braveheart' it and get times, events and history all mixed up."