ZDF Studios and Three Tables Productions to develop "A Theft of Lies" drama

Written and created by Chris Cornwell (Strike Back, A Discovery of Witches), the story is inspired by the audacious true-life raids of Chinese art from museums and European collections over the last decade.

24 AUG 2022

Chris Cornwell

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ZDF Studios has joined forces with UK indie Three Tables Productions to develop “A Theft of Lies” (working title), a thrilling heist drama about an art forger who’s forced into teaming up with a fearless professional thief to steal back priceless Asian artworks that were taken during Britain’s colonial past. Written and created by Chris Cornwell (Strike Back, A Discovery of Witches), the story is inspired by the audacious true-life raids of Chinese art from museums and European collections over the last decade. “A Theft of Lies” turns the core of these events into a high-stakes show that is about much more than just art theft. It’s a story of culture, identity, and unrequited love in the shadow of an empire.

“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 artifacts, you realize that this makes a compelling ground for storytelling. Hence, we were not hesitant to board ‘A Theft of Lies’ when JT Wong from Three Tables came to us with this original story from Chris Cornwell. It combines these elements and 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,” Yi Qiao, Director of Drama at ZDF Studios, said.

“Chris brought us an idea that was immediately compelling and exciting. We could see his ambition to create a fun and entertaining show 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 has grown up with mixed cultures and all still working out how our heritage, nationality, and identity fit together,” JT Wong, Managing Director of Three Tables Productions, added.

“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. It’s something most of us have felt at one time or another, especially if you have 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 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 to fit in,” Chris Cornwell, Writer and Creator of “A Theft of Lies,” said.

While most art thefts are uncomplicated affairs, starting in 2010, there was a series of daring and dangerous raids across Norway, France, Sweden, and the United Kingdom. The focus was on objects that had themselves been stolen during Europe’s colonial past. These pieces disappeared, but some allegedly turned up in free exhibitions in China. While not based on these specific thefts, “A Theft of Lies” was inspired by the brash and exciting approach to redressing past wrongs. The show starts with James Tobin, a British art dealer of East Asian heritage. Tobin is known for his knack for 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 while 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 love with each other, even as their loyalties to the mission and one another are tested to their limits.