Todd Haynes set to direct Peggy Lee biopic starring Reese Witherspoon

Reece Witherspoon

A long-gestating biopic of singer Peggy Lee which fell into Hollywood purgatory following the death of writer Nora Ephron looks set for a high-profile revival after Far from Heaven's Todd Haynes signed on to direct.

Producers have retained Reese Witherspoon in the lead role, with high hopes that the actor can reprise her Oscar-winning success as June Carter Cash in the acclaimed 2005 biopic Walk the Line, according to the Hollywood Reporter.

Ephron, a three-time Oscar nominee for Silkwood, When Harry Met Sally and Sleepless in Seattle, died in 2012 from complications relating to leukemia. Her script for the Lee biopic has been rewritten by the Pulitzer prize-winning playwright Doug Wright, whose film work includes adapting his own Obie-winning play for 2000's Quills.

Best known for her cover version of the Little Willie John song, Fever – to which she added her own additional lyrics – Lee was a product of the big band era, a singer, songwriter and composer whose career spanned nearly seven decades. Married four times, she died in 2002 at the age of 81. The singer was one of the first members of Capitol Records's "old guard" to embrace the new rock'n'roll sound, often covering songs by the likes of the Beatles in the 1960s. She was also an accomplished actor, gaining an Oscar nomination for best actress in 1955 for her portrayal of a despairing, alcoholic blues singer in Pete Kelly's Blues.

Witherspoon, whose Cheryl Strayed adaptation Wild has just premiered at Toronto, was involved in a previous version of the biopic which had Ephron attached to direct. A 2010 report in Variety suggested the actor was instrumental in securing the rights to Lee's life story, having met with the singer's granddaughter, Holly Foster Wells, to express her interest.

Haynes is best known for the experimental 2007 Bob Dylan biopic I'm Not There and 2002 period drama Far from Heaven, both of which were nominated for Oscars.

• Reese Witherspoon's Wild reviewed at Toronto
• Hadley Freeman on Nora Ephron: how I'll miss herPowered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Ben Child, for theguardian.com on Tuesday 9th September 2014 16.20 Europe/London

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