BBC set to film feature length costume dramas for film

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The Independent Online
The costume drama battle between the BBC, ITV and Channel 4 was stepped up yesterday with the BBC's announcement that it is to film George Eliot's The Mill on the Floss and Wilkie Collins' detective novel, The Moonstone.

Hugh Stoddart is writing the screenplay based on Eliot's seminal novel, which tells the tragic story of the bright and impulsive Maggie Tulliver whose family falls into poverty after her father's death. Emily Watson, star of the forthcoming feature film, Breaking the Waves, is to play Maggie Tulliver, and James Frain, who acted alongside Ted Danson in Loch Ness, is to play her crippled lover, Philip Wakem.

The film goes into production on 2 September in Norfolk, marking the BBC's third adaptation of the 1860 novel; previous serials were shown in 1965 and 1978.

By contrast, the BBC will be making its first film adaptation of The Moonstone, starring Greg Wise - the cad, Willoughby, in Sense and Sensibility - as Franklin Blake, and Keeley Hawes - who starred in Dennis Potter's valedictory Karaoke, - as Rachel Verinder, Blake's lover.

Set in the mid-19th century, The Moonstone is the story of an enormous sacred diamond which is stolen by an English officer after the siege of Seringapatam. The diamond is given to Rachel Verinder on her 18th birthday but mysteriously disappears the same night.

The film's director is Bob Bierman, whose BBC series, Clarissa, starring Sean Bean and Saskia Wickhams, was shown in 1991.

"The Moonstone is one of the first detective stories in English fiction," said Mr Bierman.

"The novel was published in 1868 and reflects Wilkie Collins' fascination with both Victorian society, 19th- century drug culture and the mysteries of the East."

The decision to make both films reflects the BBC's determination to build up its reputation for feature films. Its previous hits include Truly, Madly Deeply, Cold Comfort Farm and Priest, but it has so far failed to compete with Channel 4, which last year won 37 awards worldwide for films including Four Weddings and a Funeral, Shallow Grave, The Madness of King George, Trainspotting and Secrets and Lies. Earlier this month, BBC1 announced that Anne Bronte's The Tenant of Wildfell Hall is to form the centrepiece of its autumn schedule, another instance of the craze for costume drama unleashed by the success of the recent Austen adaptations. Not to be outdone, ITV has also announced that this autumn it will be screening an adaptation of Austen's Emma and a version of Defoe's bawdy novel, Moll Flanders.