Margot Robbie is working on a new movie with a character named Harley, though it’s probably not the one you’re thinking of. The madcap capers of Harley Quinn aren’t stopping any time soon, of course, but we now have word that Tess Sharpe‘s biting, feminist mystery-thriller novel Barbed Wire Heart will be turned into a film courtesy of Warner Bros.
The Hollywood Reporter has the scoop that Robbie is producing the feature through her LuckyChap Entertainment banner. Dan Lin of IT fame will co-produce via his company, Rideback.
Most of the creative team behind Barbed Wire Heart still needs to be put together. Robbie evidently has no plans to star in the venture. However, Warner Bros. has set Emmy Award-nominated television screenwriter Carly Wray (Westworld, Mad Men) to work on adapting the book, which has been both lauded and forewarned due to its portrayal of unrelenting grit and a satisfying quest for a personal brand of justice.
Barbed Wire Heart is about Harley McKenna, a drug runner in her early twenties who has literally lived in the throes of the North Country criminal underworld from a young age. Groomed by her father, Duke, to take over their family’s meth-dealing business since she was 16, Harley has witnessed abusive horrors that have subsequently shaped her, for better or worse.
She was taught to defend herself and inflict pain on others with a plethora of weapons growing up, consistently cloistered in a bubble of violence at Duke’s instruction. Moreover, the killing of beloved family members such as her own mother — at the hands of one of her father’s most vicious rivals, no less — remains a prominent, harrowing memory.
Things come to a head when Duke’s aforementioned nemesis, Carl Springfield, initiates a ferocious turf war over the rural community that the McKennas have set up shop in. The Springfields are after Harley specifically and after years spent dreading the day that she would have to actually run Duke’s empire, she decides that her only way to survive and defend her loved ones would mean dissolving the Springfields’ enterprise… and betraying her father’s.
Barbed Wire Heart is the first adult-oriented novel from Sharpe, who has mostly frolicked through YA since her debut, Far From You. Her work isn’t frivolous, though. Even that first book alone doesn’t scrimp on tougher themes surrounding addiction and death.
The best part about Sharpe’s books is that her characters are often memorable, with or without the gritty issue mapped out on the page. For instance, Far From You is a straightforward mystery novel made all the more special due to a perceptive, resilient protagonist who also happens to make for great representation of a bisexual character.
Comparatively, Sharpe penned the much fluffier Jurassic World prequel titled The Evolution of Claire and gave its eponymous heroine Claire Dearing such a palpable, realized presence that the screenwriters responsible for her cinematic counterpart have struggled to consistently portray across two whole movies.
In the case of Barbed Wire Heart, Sharpe takes a no holds barred approach to what is essentially an in-depth character study, which in turn sustains the tension of the novel exceptionally well. There is enough difficult content in the novel for Sharpe to publish a list of trigger warnings prior to the novel’s publication. It’s a good call that she did because her main character Harley endures intense abuse and violence as the story jumps back and forth between her miserable past and similarly toxic present.
Yet, Harley sees a bigger picture without these problematic family ties and is committed to protecting other women in her community besides herself. Her hard edge doesn’t debilitate her compassion, making her well-rounded in all the best ways. Harley would make for a fantastic big-screen heroine who fights tooth and nail for her freedom. She wouldn’t be the only godsend to cinema, either. Barbed Wire Heart is filled with enough dynamics that are very easy to love and, on the flip side, despise thanks to well-developed supporting characters.
This really is the perfect LuckyChap production. Each time Robbie is involved in something new behind the camera, I often think back to a statement that the company released at the beginning of 2018 to supplement another one of their morally-grey women-centric stories.
Undeniably, LuckyChap devotes space to “[telling] female-driven stories that feel original, unique, and rebellious in nature” with their acquisition of Barbed Wire Heart, which fits right into the long and varied list of projects currently in the works. There seems to be more missing from that IMDb page, too, because where’s Barbie at?
Nevertheless, that stark contrast between picturesque doll-faced leads, comic book-y antiheroines, and deeply engaging drama-driven protagonists only continues to find shades of nuance the more Robbie’s company impresses with its potential movie choices. It sure is tempting to bemoan the fact that Robbie won’t be snapping up a role as great as Harley McKenna for herself as well.
I say that could go to so many deserving young actresses — Kaitlyn Dever (Beautiful Boy), Haley Lu Richardson (Columbus), Annalise Basso (Captain Fantastic)… — that there’s no need to despair. Regardless, Robbie’s name will soon be on yet another chilling and daring woman-led feature, retaining her eye for good work aligned with strong values.