A Discovery Of Witches Writer Chris Cornwell Pens Heist Drama A Theft Of Lies For Germanys ZDF Studios & UK Indie Three Tables Productions

Chris Cornwell, who has written on A Discovery of Witches and Strike Back, has created and written a heist  drama A Theft of Lies (working title) for Germany’s ZDF Studios and British indie Three Tables Productions.

The series is follows an art forger who’s forced into teaming up with a professional thief to steal back priceless Asian artworks that were taken during Britain’s colonial past. The story is inspired by several audacious true-life raids of Chinese art from museums and collections in Europe over the last decade.

The synopsis reads: “A Theft of Lies starts with James Tobin, a British art dealer of East Asian heritage. Tobin is known for his knack of finding lost works from renowned artists and selling them to the wealthy elite who visit his Kensington art gallery. On the surface, he’s exactly what you’d expect from an operator in this world: charming, an avatar of high class, and devilishly clever. There’s only one problem. Everything that Tobin sells – his paintings, his persona – is fake. Everyone buys his fraud… until Xiaoli “Lily” Jiang walks into his gallery. Confident, astute and impeccably dressed, she can see straight through his façade and makes him an offer he cannot afford to refuse. Lily is the mastermind behind a series of breath-taking thefts, but she needs Tobin, his skills and high-class connections, to pull off her latest plans. She intends to steal from the elites she hates, and get rich whilst doing it.

“The two will soon clash with Nathan Everett, the sole member of Scotland Yard’s under-resourced art crimes squad: a man who’s hot on their heels. As the stakes get higher, Lily and Tobin will find a love with each other, even as their loyalties to the mission and one another are tested to their limits.”

The show’s creator, Cornwell, who is best known for writing on Bad Wolf’s Sky drama A Discovery of Witches and Left Bank Pictures’ Sky and Cinemax action thriller series Strike Back, said heist dramas “are games of identity and deception.”

“The con artists, at their heart, are desperately trying to fool those around them that they belong,” he added. “It’s something most of us have felt at one time or another, especially if you’ve a foot outside of the culture you’re trying to fit into. That’s what all of us find so exciting about this story. It’ll have the thrilling twists and character turns that we love about the genre, but it’s ultimately about what it takes to bluff your way into British high society. Beneath the genre beats, it’s a story of the pieces of ourselves that we sell in order to fit in.”

Yi Qiao, Director Drama at ZDF Studios, said: “The search for self-identity and belonging is a lifelong one that is known to every single one of us. If you link this with today’s discussion around the colonial history of art and artefacts, you realize that this makes a compelling ground for storytelling”.

“Hence, there was no hesitation for us to board A Theft of Lies when JT Wong from Three Tables came to us with this original story from Chris Cornwell. It not only combines these elements but transforms them into a high stakes heist drama. I couldn’t be more thrilled for us at ZDF Studios to be part of this journey.”

Wong, Managing Director of Three Tables Productions, added: “Chris brought us an idea that was immediately compelling and exciting. We could clearly see his ambition to create a fun and entertaining show that is driven by two complex characters who, underneath the thrill and glamour, are searching for their place in the world. Bringing Chris, Yi and us together felt instantly like a great combination – each of us having grown up with mixed cultures and all still working out how our heritage, nationality and identity fit together.

ZDF Studios, the production and commercial arm of German pubcaster ZDF, rebranded from ZDF Enterprises earlier this year, while Three Tables was founded in 2019 by Mystical Productions co-founder JT Wong, ex-Leopard Pictures development chief David Chikwe and former UK Film Council Senior Executive Himesh Kar, who was executive producer on Benedict Cumberbatch starrer Walk With Me.

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