Bodices and breeches top the TV schedules

Anne Bronte's The Tenant of Wildfell Hall is to form the centrepiece of BBC1's autumn schedule, it was revealed yesterday - the latest example of television's craze for bonnets, bosoms and breeches following Jane Austen's TV triumph, writes Marianne Macdonald.

The three-part adaptation is to star Tara Fitzgerald, Rupert Graves and Toby Stephens, son of the actress Maggie Smith.

A surprising choice in many ways, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall is one of the Bronte sisters' least accessible novels. It is the story of Helen, a beautiful young mother forced to flee her debauched and unfaithful husband, Arthur Huntingdon, to live with her brother Lawrence.

Charlotte Bronte suggested that the unpleasant husband was based on their dissolute brother Branwell, and after it was published readers considered the novel excessively morbid - a far cry from Pride and Prejudice, the recent Jane Austen adaptation.

BBC1's pounds 162m schedule faces tough competition from ITV, which earlier this month announced that this autumn it would be screening an adaptation of Austen's Emma by Andrew Davies, who wrote the acclaimed Pride and Prejudice for the BBC.

ITV has lined up two other audience-grabbing costume dramas: a continuation of the popular Poldark series - without the original stars - and an adaptation of Defoe's rollicking Moll Flanders.

It has also confirmed rumours that a fourth episode of Coronation Street will go out at 7.30pm on Sundays from the end of November in an attempt to bump up Sunday night ratings.

BBC1 meanwhile will offer a revamped version of Clive Anderson Talks Back, the chat show formerly on Channel 4, called All Talk, and former EastEnders star Letitia Dean in a comedy drama, The Hello Girls, about a group of telephonists in the Fifties.

In another major drama, BBC1 will be telling the story of the Victorian adventurer Cecil Rhodes, starring the ex-Professionals actor, Martin Shaw, in an eight-part series which took 10 years to make and used 10,000 South African extras.

Returning series include Hetty Wainthropp Investigates, Casualty, Crocodile Shoes and Pie in the Sky. There will be a one-off Absolutely Fabulous special and a reworking of an old favourite in The Legacy of Reginald Perrin.

Forthcoming documentaries include the story of Britain's "collusion" with France and Israel in The Suez Crisis to mark the 40th anniversary of the conflict, and film premieres include Al Pacino in Carlito's Way, Sharon Stone in Sliver, and Michael Douglas in Falling Down.

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