Three theatrical knights are coming together for a new TV adaptation of a famous play about life backstage away from the audience and the bright lights.

Sir Anthony Hopkins and Sir Ian McKellen will take the lead roles in BBC Two’s version of The Dresser directed by former National Theatre boss Sir Richard Eyre.

The play revolves around an ailing actor, played by Sir Anthony, and the efforts of his dresser to keep his theatre company on the road during the Second World War.

It was a hit in the West End and on Broadway in 1980 and made into a film in 1983 starring Albert Finney and Tom Courtenay.

BBC drama boss Ben Stephenson unveiled details of the new adaptation ahead of a corporation launch event tonight and said it was part of a ‘broader range’ of programmes on its channels.

He also said the BBC has commissioned an adaptation of Len Deighton’s thriller SS-GB by Robert Wade and Neal Purvis, the writers behind the Bond film Skyfall.

The BBC One series, made up of five one-hour episodes, is based on Deighton’s novel which is set in an imagined Great Britain that fell to the Nazis after the Battle of Britain and revolves around a Scotland Yard detective caught between Hitler’s forces and the resistance.

Stephenson told the London Evening Standard the dramas were part of an ‘eclectic mix of shows’ with ‘world class’ casts.