<i>Illustration: Rocco Fazzari</i>

Illustration: Rocco Fazzari

THE race is on to tell the life of Australia's richest woman on film, with news that a second television mini-series about the life of Gina Rinehart is in development.

The top-secret project is being developed by a joint venture between the production company Cordell Jigsaw Zapruder and the actress Claudia Karvan's production company for Channel Nine.

CJZ was formed last year after a merger between the production company Cordell Jigsaw Productions and Andrew Denton's production company, Zapruder's Other Films.

Last week another production company, Screentime, announced it was developing a six-hour mini-series about Mrs Rinehart's life, based on the best-selling biography of the mining magnate written by Fairfax journalist Adele Ferguson.

Fairfax understands the Cordell/Karvan joint venture pitched the project to Channel Nine executives last year and it has been in development since then. It does not yet have a title.

Around the same time both Cordell Jigsaw Zapruder and Karvan's production company made separate attempts to secure the rights to Ferguson's book but were unsuccessful.

The Perth-based journalist Steve Pennells, who has written extensively about the Hancock/Rinehart dynasty, is attached to the Nine project as a consultant.

In a curious twist, Pennells's employer, the Perth-based newspaper The West Australian, is owned by Nine's long-time rival, the Seven Network.

Pennells won a Gold Walkley last year for coverage of the legal battle between Mrs Rinehart and her children, John Hancock, Bianca Hayward and Hope Welker.

Screentime's boss, veteran television executive Des Monaghan, said Mrs Rinehart and her father, mining magnate Lang Hancock, have ''fascinated Australia for decades.

Mr Monaghan said Ferguson's book offered ''unprecedented access to those closest to the family [and would] give an insight and greater understanding of one of the most intriguing women in the world.''

Mrs Rinehart is one of the wealthiest people in the world, with a fortune worth almost $20 billion. She is also a major shareholder of Fairfax Media.

The Screentime project, to be adapted by Offspring writer Michael Lucas, does not yet have a broadcaster attached.

Confirmation of the Channel Nine project will narrow the sales potential of the Screentime project in the Australian market.

All three commercial networks and the national broadcaster have developed a robust appetite for true-life character dramas with high-profile headliners.

A handful of projects, notably the ABC's Paper Giants franchise and Nine's Howzat! mini-series and its planned sequel, have focused on the lives of media and business identities such as Ita Buttrose, Rupert Murdoch and the late Kerry Packer. The programs have drawn between 1.5 million and 2 million viewers.