Bring on the rotting kangaroos

After 'Sense and Sensibility', 'Emma' and 'Jude the Obscure', what next?
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The Independent Culture
Now The bottom of the Jane Austen barrel has been well and truly scraped, it's Thomas Hardy's turn to enjoy an unroyaltied reign over our cinema screens. But once the Hollywood producers have worked their way backwards from Jude the Obscure to The Hand of Ethelberta, they'll be raiding the classics shelves again for the next round of literary blockbusters. To make their lives a little easier, we respectfully offer six surefire suggestions.

The Mysteries of Udolpho

By ANN RADCLIFFE

The author: Enlightenment housewife superstar (1764-1823).

The plot: After the death of her kind-but-blind father (John Gielgud, in his greatest sitting-down role), bosomy frocked heroine Emily (Gillian Anderson) is torn from the arms of her lover, Gino Ginelli (Douglas Hodge), and forced by the villainous Count Montoni di Frascati (Robert Hardy) to run aimlessly around a trapdoor-infested mittel-European castle. Attempting to escape, Emily's reckoned without the catacombs guarded by vampire nuns, and the muderous attentions of Father Nicola (Robert Hardy again), alienated from society because of his girl's name. There's also the pillage-based threat of the banditti, searching for hapless travellers to listen to their Gypsy Kings cover versions. Spookily, everyone turns out to be Emily's dad: what's a gal to do?

The pitch: Poldark for the conspiracy-theory generation. A rollercoaster ride hot from the Age of Reason.

Bums-on-seats: Sex in gothic novels is very incest-led, so we'll have to be inventive if we don't want the movie to flop everyplace but East Anglia. Pre-show warm-up by feisty Carmelite Sister Wendy.

Poster line: Trust no one - especially if they're a member of the Inquisition.

The Moonstone

By WILKIE COLLINS

The author: Big-bearded, lumpy headed great-grandfather of Joan and Jackie. Took a lot of laudanum in the Sixties. (The 1860s.)

The plot: Bumbling, drugged-up hero Franklin Blake (Hugh Grant) doesn't realise he's accidentally committed the theft of a fabulous diamond. Crumbs. Like Beau Geste in denial, he's still pottering around when Detective Sergeant Cuff (Richard Attenborough) arrives. Underplaying it as beautifully as he did in Jurassic Park, Attenborough suspects Rosanna Spearman, the hunchbacked maidservant with a guilty past (Mollie Sugden). When Rosanna drowns herself, the detective attempts to pin the crime on Arthur Fowler. "Any road up," booms faithful old retainer Gabriel Betteredge (Ian McKellen), "it's a rum do, as much as like as not." However, the truth is only revealed when Franklin Blake receives an injection of truth drug from the local mesmerist (Tony Hop or Sher). Awaking, shamefaced, he exclaims: "I've been a bloody fool."

The pitch: Trainspotting meets The Revenge of the Pink Panther.

Bums-on-seats: We could add a gang of knife-throwing Hindu cultists, a comedy butler and a nutty evangelist. But Collins did it already.

Alternative title: Four Red Herrings and a Funeral.

Heart of Darkness

By JOSEPH CONRAD

The author: Manic-depressive Polish sailor (1857-1924).

The plot: Hard-boiled narrator Marlow (Will Hurt or Dafoe) takes a boating vacation down the Congo, and finds Irma Kurtz running a degenerate, bestial society deep in the uncharted Interior. Irma's lording it over her primitive subjects with an obscure philosophy based on human sacrifice and Jungian archetypes. Irma tells Marlow that he has low self-esteem and should get out more. Marlow tells Irma that he came down the Congo to find his inner child, but all he's seen is mosquito bites and nudie dancing. Irma says things might be worse: he could have found Swoosie Kurtz. Cue big musical number: "That's the horror, the horror of being in love". Severed heads on stakes offer the potential for uncredited celebrity cameos.

The pitch: Howards' Way meets The Land That Time Forgot with a twist of Kieslowskian pessimism.

Bums-on-seats: Marlow's got this little terrier with him to react to his wisecracks by cocking an ear. They bring a dinosaur egg back to London, with hilarious consequences.

Alternative title: Steamboat Willie II.

Poster line: One man and his dog take on the monstrous forces of atavism.

Trilby

By GEORGE DU MAURIER

The author: Daphne's grandad, one-eyed one-hit wonder (1834-96).

The plot: Three hairy Victorian artists (Tom Selleck, Burt Reynolds and Brian Blessed) all fall in love with a tone-deaf Cockney-Parisian model (Whitney Houston). But Svengali, the local evil Jewish mesmerist conductor (Tony Hop or Sher), hypnotises her into insane sexual submission and a successful concert tour as support to the Three Tenors. For a brief moment she's the femme de siecle, but once her musical mentor is impaled on his own baton, Trilby wastes decorously away and the three hairy artists weep into their beards and burnt sienna. And, of course, there's a magnificent comic cameo from a disgruntled Parisian cabman (played by Blakey from On the Buses).

The pitch: (Tricky one this, as people will think it's about a hat.) Showgirls meets La Boheme? An anti-Semitic musical version of The Mysterious World of Paul McKenna?

Bums-on-seats: Hollywood had John Barrymore; maybe we could use Michael. We can add a cleaver-wielding dwarf in a red plastic mac. We can also reduce the unusually high number of beards.

Alternative title: Intermesmo.

Poster line: When it came to singalongaSvengali, she only had eyes for him.

Mrs Dalloway

By VIRGINIA WOOLF

The author: Waterlogged schizophrenic saloneuse (1882-1941).

The plot: Doughty Clarissa D (Emma Thompson) has such a time getting flowers for her party, but heigh-ho, onward and upward. Lady Bruton (Mum) is being grand, whilst girlhood friend Sally Seton (Imelda Staunton) is arranging guacamole and nibbles. The comedy servants (Richard Briers, Stephen Fry and Su Pollard) are flabbergasted when old flame Peter Walsh (Ken, just to show there's no hard feelings) unexpectedly pops over from India. Everything's tickety-boo as hobs are nobbed, olives get unstuffed and the Pringles tubes empty. Meanwhile, shellshocked Septimus Warren Smith (little Sam West doing goggle-eyed trench-wobble with an impeccable period sense) careers around central London, imagining he hears the sparrows singing in Ancient Greek. Unable to conjugate a particularly irregular verb, Septimus comes to a sticky end when he hurls himself into the gutter outside Joe Allen's. Golly.

The pitch: It's a stream-of-consciousness Upstairs Downstairs.

Bums-on-seats: Not sure about these sparrows. Couldn't we change it to the Smurfs doing "So Here's to You, Mrs Dalloway"?

Poster line: She's adjusted the gardenias. She's looked out of the window for a bit. Now she's just tootling out for some plums.

Mrs Beeton's Book of

Household Management

The author: Less Christian, more suet-oriented Delia (1836-65).

The plot: Not as such. But instead there'll be rich visual imagery, a gaudy plethora of colour, line, form and sensuality. I see a naked Helen Mirren jumping about on a heap of rotting kangaroo meat. There'll be fleshy, sweaty sex and violence with lots of menu details zipping across the screen. From engorged aardvark kidneys to succulent zebra giblets, Mrs Beeton will tackle them all, strangling animals live on her own beechwood table. You'll gasp in admiration as she floors and garrottes the best that Regent's Park can offer. You'll cheer as she seduces the zookeeper (Johnny Morris), persuading him to let her loose in the reptile house with her double boiler. To a Michael Nyman accordion soundtrack, it's ox-tongue-a-go-go in a rich celebration of the exciting world of 19th-century offal dishes.

The pitch: Peter Greenaway does Ready Steady Cook.

Bums-on-seats: It's got more flying forks than The Cook, the Thief..., more kedgeree than Mrs Hudson's wheelie-bin and more rolled tongue than Donald Sinden.

Merchandise concept: wipe-clean recipe cards.

Poster line: Often licked, never Beeton. !

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