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  M.   January 14, 2010

Keira Knightley will not play Eliza Doolittle in the new movie version of My Fair Lady.

The Oscar-nominated actress, currently energising the London theatre scene with her stage debut in The Misanthrope at the Comedy Theatre, has withdrawn herself from consideration for the role created by Audrey Hepburn in the landmark film based on the Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe musical.

Over a period of two years, the 24-year-old star met producers Cameron Mackintosh and Duncan Kenworthy to discuss the possibility of playing the Covent Garden flower girl who becomes a Maycould fair lady after she meets Professor Henry Higgins.

Although strongly linked with the role (she had singing lessons and sang for Mackintosh), Keira was never officially offered the part. She is believed to have felt that the project was taking too long to get off the ground.

Several directors, including Joe Wright, who directed Keira in Pride And Prejudice and Atonement, and Danny Boyle, who won last year’s best director Academy Award for Slumdog Millionaire, toyed with the idea of directing the picture, but have since declined.

Now John Madden, who made Oscar triumph Shakespeare In Love and the forthcoming thriller The Debt, has signed on to make the film and has been busily building his team. Acclaimed choreographer Matthew Bourne will most likely create the dance sequences.

There had been rumours of an American actress such as Scarlett Johansson and Anne Hathaway being in the running to play Eliza, but the film-makers are insistent that the role goes to a British actress.

Among those now being asked to meet Madden is Carey Mulligan, nominated this week for the British Academy of Film and Television Arts’ Orange Rising Star Award – which has a good lineup this year.

Other contenders in the category are: Twilight‘s Kristen Stewart, Jesse Eisenberg from Zombieland, former Skins star Nicholas Hoult (very good opposite Colin Firth in A Single Man) and Tahar Rahim, who is brilliant in the sublime prison drama A Prophet.

Carey’s on a roll with the BBC Film An Education. She’s up for a best actress Golden Globe in Beverly Hills on Sunday and well garner an Oscar nomination. The list of other actresses being considered includes Gemma Arterton and Emily Blunt.

Filming on My Fair Lady is expected to begin on locations in London later in the year.

Meanwhile, Keira will shoot two new movies after her theatre run ends in March. In the first, she will appear with Christoph Waltz and Michael Fassbender (portraying Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung), in The Talking Cure, directed by David Cronenberg.

The film, based on Christopher Hampton’s play, follows Freud and Jung’s psychonalysis of a young woman (Keira) who has suffered physical violence at the hands of her father.