Sam Mendes for BBC Shakespeare season

Sam Mendes Mendes won an Oscar for 1999's American Beauty

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Oscar-winning director Sam Mendes has signed up to helm four new versions of Shakespeare's history plays for the BBC, it has been announced.

Mendes will be executive producer of Richard II, Henry IV parts I and II, and Henry V as part of a special season devoted to the Bard planned for 2012.

The American Beauty director said he "couldn't be more delighted" to be making the films.

Documentaries about the writer's life will also feature during the season.

"One of my earliest introductions to Shakespeare was watching the plays on TV, and it's terrific to have the opportunity to bring them to a new, wider audience," Mendes added.

The director, whose films include Revolutionary Road and Road To Perdition, also has a stellar career in the theatre.

He was artistic director of the Donmar Warehouse from 1992 - 2002, winning the Laurence Olivier award for best director twice, for his productions of The Glass Menagerie and Company.

In recent years, he has run The Bridge Project, a transatlantic theatrical collaboration, performing two works a year at The Old Vic in London and New York's Brooklyn Academy of Music.

The BBC's Shakespeare season follows the success of the corporation's televised version of a Royal Shakespeare Company production of Hamlet, starring David Tennant.

The corporation has also announced that Oscar-winning writer Jane Campion will create a new drama series for BBC Two.

Filming will begin in New Zealand next year on Top of the Lake, which sees a detective on the trail of a missing pregnant 12-year-old girl.

Playwright Sir David Hare will also direct and write a new play for the corporation, details of which have yet to be released.

Announcing the new commissions, Ben Stephenson, the BBC's controller of drama said: "Only BBC Drama could bring you this kind of quality and ambition."

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