Films That Almost Got Made That Time Forgot: Clone of Contention
By 1995, the filmmaking team of producer Ismael Merchant, director James Ivory and screenwriter Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, collectively known as Merchant Ivory Productions, had just finished a decade of remarkable success. Beginning in 1985 with A Room with a View and continuing through 1993’s Remains of the Day, the partners had produced six critical and commercial successes in a row. They were also the recipients of multiple Academy Awards during this period, with A Room with a View winning three Oscars, 1992’s Howards End also winning three. While Remains of the Day did not take home any Oscars, it was nominated for eight, including Best Picture.
Merchant Ivory was best known for its literary adaptations, which, more often than not, dealt with
the balance between peoples’ suppressed feelings and their subsequent actions. Merchant Ivory films nearly always took place in the past, and were often lush costume dramas. Their most successful films were often set in the English Countryside and involved the wealthiest members of society and the often culturally forbidden interactions between them. At a time when the world economy was flailing, these themes struck a chord with moviegoers who saw the plight of the upper crust as perfect escapist fare.
But in 1995, their streak of success came to an end with the release of the historical epic Jefferson in Paris. The film received lukewarm reviews from critics and was a box office flop. While Merchant and Ivory were inclined to shrug off the failure of the film as part of the hit and miss nature of filmmaking, Jhabvala was affected very deeply, blaming herself for the films shortcomings. In response, her next screenplay was a radical departure from her previous work. Rather than a costume drama detailing the relationships of the emotionally compromised, her new screenplay was a modern horror tale. Entitled Clone of Contention, it was the story of a super-intelligent, yet disturbed, scientist who would extract DNA samples from unsuspecting women through vigorous handshakes. He would then take the DNA samples back to his lab and create clones of the women, ultimately assaulting and murdering them. The female protagonist of the story has a kind of psychic connection with her clone and is haunted by visions, in effect seeing through the eyes of her clone as it is cultivated in the lab and menaced by the killer. Finally, with help from a rogue cop who plays by his own rules, and a gay best friend whose wisdom transcends his role as comic relief, the heroine defeats the serial killer and saves the life of her clone. The heroine and her clone become best friends. The final scene involves the two of them on a well-deserved shopping spree in which they end up buying the same shoes.
Perhaps predictably, Merchant and Ivory were unimpressed with Jhabvala’s screenplay and refused to film it. Hurt and discouraged, Jhabvala quit Merchant Ivory Productions for a short time. But because she could not find anyone else to produce her horror film, she returned to Merchant Ivory Productions late in 1995, writing the screenplay for its next feature, Surviving Picasso.
Clone of Contention was never filmed, and Jhabvala refused to speak of it from the time Merchant and Ivory rejected it until her death in 2013. However, a rumor circulated in Hollywood that, after several more flops in the late 90’s, Merchant Ivory Productions considered reviving the rejected screenplay, changing the setting to 19th century London, changing the clones to class-conscious male suitors, changing the heroine from a career-driven American go-getter to the spinster daughter of a wealthy English landowner, and casting British actor Richard Harris as the killer. The revival was ultimately abandoned when Harris passed away in 2002.