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Hilary to star in film about malaria by Four Weddings writer Richard Curtis

Richard Curtis has cast Hilary Swank and Brenda Blethyn in his ‘entertaining’ new film Martha and Mary, which is about malaria.

He turned Hugh Grant into a Hollywood star and helped revive the British film industry, but now Richard Curtis has taken on his perhaps most difficult challenge.

The creator of Four Weddings and a Funeral and Notting Hill tells Mandrake that he is making a film about malaria which he hopes will make cinema-goers laugh as well as cry.

He has cast Hilary Swank, who won the Best Actress Academy Award on two occasions, and Brenda Blethyn, the twice Oscar-nominated star of Secrets & Lies.

The film is to be called Martha and Mary. “It is about malaria, so not an especially funny topic, but there are some jokes in it,” Curtis tells me at an event in his beloved Notting Hill.

He has previously said of the project: “I hope the malaria film will be entertaining, but also make the point that this is something we should do something about.” It is understood that shooting will begin on the film in Africa and in America this summer.

Curtis, who wrote the screenplay for Bridget Jones’s Diary and the scripts for the sitcoms Blackadder and The Vicar of Dibley, has long campaigned for the eradication of malaria through his work for Comic Relief. The disease kills more than 750,000 people around the world each year.

“Malaria can and should be wiped out,” he said last year. “The world did almost get rid of malaria in the 1960s, but a bit stayed in Africa and now it’s killing all over again.”

The last film for which Curtis wrote the screenplay was War Horse, while the most recent picture he directed was The Boat That Rocked in 2009.