Universal Lands Epic Mining-Crime Story ‘Blood Runs Coal’ For Its Oscar-Winning ‘Oppenheimer’ Star Cillian Murphy; Jez & John-Henry Butterworth Adapting Mark Bradley Book; Davis Entertainment Producing With Murphy

EXCLUSIVE: Two nights before Cillian Murphy won the Best Actor Oscar for the Universal Pictures blockbuster Oppenheimer, the studio completed a pre-emptive acquisition for the Mark A. Bradley book Blood Runs Coal: The Yablonski Murders and the Battle for the United Mine Workers of America. It’s an epic story of a corrupt union leader who murders a rival and is taken down by the lawyer son of the slain coal miner. It will be scripted as a starring and producing vehicle for Murphy.

Jez Butterworth (Spectre, Ford v Ferrari) will write the script with John-Henry Butterworth (Get On Up, Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny). That duo worked together on Edge of Tomorrow. There is a lot here for them to mine.

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Blood Runs Coal takes place in the late 1960s in the coal mines of Pennsylvania and chronicles one of the most infamous crimes in the history of organized labor. Jock Yablonski was a second-generation coal miner who became an activist in the United Mine Workers union after his father was killed in a mine explosion. He fought for safety, better working conditions and health benefits as many around him were felled by black lung and other respiratory maladies, and mishaps in the mines were all too common and preventable. He made sure his children were educated and could find work above ground.

Jock ran afoul of Tony Boyle, the union president who would do things like show up in a mine company helicopter to address workers after another mine mishap and tell them that mining was a dangerous business. He also seemed to use union coffers as his own piggybank. When Yablonski ran against Boyle and made accusations of impropriety, Boyle – who spent union funds on his own election campaign – was re-elected amid charges of ballot box stuffing. He was so incensed by the audacity of being challenged that he was said to have ordered the murder of his opponent. After three attempts, Yablonski was killed along with most of his family as they gathered for New Year’s Eve.

Not everyone was home. Yablonski’s son Chip had been in the house but left a day early. A labor attorney, Chip Yablonski made it his life mission to get justice for his father. He petitioned for the Department of Labor to investigate and filed suit to overturn the elections, along with his brother Kenneth. After two of the convicted murderers fingered Boyle as the mastermind who used embezzled union funds to pay hitmen to murder Yablonski, his wife and daughter, the union boss was indicted on three counts of murder, convicted in 1974 and sentenced to three life terms in prison. He died behind bars in 1985.

Murphy will play Chip Yablonski, a role that seems tailor fit for him. The actor excels in period films from Oppenheimer to Dunkirk, The Wind That Shakes the Barley and TV’s Peaky Blinders, and NBCUniversal Chairman and Chief of Content Donna Langley moved quickly to pre-empt the package before other studios had the chance to bid.

John Davis and Jordan Davis will produce through Davis Entertainment. Murphy and Alan Moloney will produce through Big Things Films. Mark A. Bradley will be executive producer. Jordan Davis found the book, and the pieces came together quickly on a drama that could put Murphy back in an awards race down the line.

There is hope Murphy will reprise in a Peaky Blinders film scripted by series creator Steven Knight. He will star in Steve for Netflix, directed by Tim Mielants, who helmed Small Things Like These, the first film Murphy produced with Big Things Films partner Moloney, which premiered in the Berlinale. Murphy also is aboard as EP with the likelihood he’ll reprise in 28 Years Later, the zombie trilogy being mounted by Danny Boyle and Alex Garland. It was a bloody photo from that movie that first caught Christopher Nolan’s attention and led to a Murphy relationship that has spanned The Dark Knight trilogy, Inception, Dunkirk and led to both of them winning Oscars for Oppenheimer.

Murphy is repped by CAA, Lou Coulson Associates, David Weber at Sloane Offer Weber & Dern. Jez and John-Henry Butterworth are represented by CAA and Alan Wertheimer at Jackoway Austen Tyerman. Bradley is repped by Grandview and Aevitas Creative Management. Todd Shuster of Aevitas brokered the publishing deal for the book with Norton.

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