x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Who will play the Chilean miners on film?

In showbiz, as in life, they say, timing is everything. You've either got it or you haven't. The miners in Chile had it.

In showbiz, as in life, they say, timing is everything. You've either got it, or you haven't. The miners in Chile had it. My actor-friend Paul, whose big career break on a new UK television drama coincided with the start of the rescue mission at Camp Hope last Monday evening, hadn't.

By the time his featured episode commenced at 10pm local time, his moment in the spotlight was being watched by an audience of at least 18 people. The rest of the world - including me - were glued instead to the BBC and the unfolding events at San Jose. The capsule was down and the first miner was being winched, metre by agonising metre, from the jaws of oblivion and up into the arms of his loved ones. Here really was the ultimate in cliffhangers.

And what drama it offered. Each returning miner offered a fresh story - for some, jubilant celebration, for others a stiff-limbed descent onto their knees and a prayer to the God who had delivered them.

Some hugged babies they had never seen, while others found themselves not only greeting their wives but, how shall we say... certain other long-term lady friends they had, until now, been able to keep discreetly separate.

It was the ultimate made-for-TV soap opera, each fresh instalment occurring at 30-minute intervals, ideal for a comfort break or the chance to pop out into the kitchen for a cup of tea. It even had a happy ending.

But although the rescue mission is now over, there's still big money to be made from the events in the Atacama Desert, and you can be sure that every last scrap will be cannibalised for commercial gain.

Already, UK supermarkets have discounted the sale of Chilean food and beverages with a resultant increase of up to 25 per cent in sales, while travel agents are reporting a huge spike in holidays to South America.

And what of Camp Hope itself? One astute entrepreneur has already done well out of the disaster, charging the media $250 per night to stay there. His initiative is surely just the beginning.

There is talk of turning the site into a sprawling theme park, and it doesn't take much imagination to envisage the scene in a couple of years' time once corporate hospitality has moved in: "Welcome, everyone to The San Jose Experience, Chile's only Las Vegas-style luxury desert resort; complete with casinos, spas and beauty treatment salons."

For anyone interested in experiencing the miners' ordeal for themselves, a luxury fur-lined capsule complete with complimentary tea will take you in sleek comfort down into the very pit of hell, where you'll be able to wander among the underground shopping malls, stopping off at the souvenir shop for some trinkets to take back to the folks at home: some San Jose wraparound sunglasses perhaps, or a bottle of genuine Atacama mineral water.

Perhaps, inevitably, Hollywood will be first out of the traps. Apparently plans are afoot to remint the drama into a blockbuster, with the Oscar-nominated actor Javier Bardem already linked with the project.

But you can be sure it won't stop with Bardem. Virtually every movie star in Tinseltown will be jostling to get down that mineshaft, particularly, if as in the case of the original cast members, it revives a flagging career.

So who can we expect to emerge from the Phoenix II capsule when it replays in 18 months' time? Will it be Tom Cruise as plucky little Florencino Avalos, his face begrimed by expertly applied streaks of dust and grime? Will he run to greet his adoring partner, played by Angelina Jolie or Penelope Cruz?

And what then? Perhaps a rousing chorus of the Chilean national anthem with the billionaire President Russell Crowe and his wife (Meryl Streep with perfectly coiffured hair and polished hard hat).

And what of Luis Urzua, the foreman, the man whose leadership and quiet courage in those unthinkable first 17 days kept hope flickering in the hearts of his terrified colleagues? Surely a role for Morgan Freeman.

For now, I count myself privileged to have been around to witness the original in all its chaotic, rough-hewn glory. Despite my bleary eyes and bitten fingernails, the faces of those 32 miners emerging from their prison will be something I'll never forget. Yes, I know there were 33, but I deliberately didn't watch the final rescue. And please don't tell me what happened - I'm waiting for the movie.

Michael Simkins is an actor and writer based in London