“The Cry” producer Synchronicity Films has optioned the forthcoming non-fiction book, “The Hidden Case of Ewan Forbes: The Transgender Trial that Threatened to Upend the British Establishment,” with plans to develop a scripted miniseries.
Produced alongside Brazen Productions, the series will be written by BAFTA-winning trans writer Sukey Fisher (“Soundproof”), who will adapt University of London professor Zoë Playdon’s upcoming hybrid of social history, biography and gender theory, which is published out of the U.K. this month by Bloomsbury Publishing and in the U.S. by Scribner.
The book is based on the real story of Aberdonian doctor, farmer and baronet Ewan Forbes-Sempill — born Elisabeth Forbes — who in 1952 corrected the sex on his birth certificate in order to marry the love of his life, Isabella “Patty” Mitchell.
Ewan’s marriage, the couple’s freedom and Ewan’s gender became highly politically charged when his inheritance of the Forbes baronetcy was challenged in Scotland’s most senior court of law by his cousin John, who claimed that Ewan was a woman. The Scottish government took measures to bury the case, though more details have emerged in recent years.
The series will be set in and around the Scottish aristocratic family of Forbes-Sempill and Craigievar Castle, seat of the Clan Forbes for 350 years.
Claire Mundell, managing director of Synchronicity, said: “Based on extensive research by Zoë Playdon in her incredible book of the same name, ‘The Hidden Case of Ewan Forbes’ will shine a light on this little-known love story, which has remarkable resonance in 2021. Ewan’s life and marriage provide a lens through which we can explore contemporary themes of gender identity and the freedom to live and love authentically — and we are thrilled to have such a thoughtful writer in Sukey to bring this story to mainstream audiences globally.”
Jules Hussey of Brazen Productions added: “Zoë’s archeological uncovering of Ewan’s life, love and fight reveals not just the lengths he would go to in order to protect his marriage but also how far human rights for trans people have regressed from 50 years ago. I am so pleased that Synchronicity embraced this project and I am honored to be part of bringing this story to the screen with such passionate co-creators and allies.”
Fisher said: “Ewan’s is one of the boldest lives I know, forced through unthinkable trials by authority figures and biased experts, emerging triumphant but at an appalling cost. He’s an ordinary but splendid man. His ordeal more than 50 years ago belongs as much to the present as the past. The idea that trans lives belong not to the person living them but to anyone else who cares to express an opinion is no less true today, and our civil rights are more fragile in 2021 than they’ve been for a generation.”
Playdon is the emeritus professor of medical humanities at the University of London. A former co-chair of the Gay and Lesbian Association of Doctors and Dentists, in 1994 she and her colleague Dr. Lynne Jones MP co-founded the Parliamentary Forum on Gender Identity, which continues to meet.
“Most people are unaware that until the 1960s, trans people self-identified, received affirmative medical treatment, corrected their birth certificates and lived in complete equality with everyone else,” said Playdon. “Ewan was the reason that changed. But hopefully, the historical realities so ably dramatized by Sukey, Synchronicity, and Brazen Productions, will help everyone to realize that restoring trans equality is an urgent issue of social justice.”
Fisher is represented by Christine Glover at Casarotto and Playdon is represented by St John Donald at United Agents.
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