ITV plans season of heaving bosoms with Austen dramas

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The Independent Online

Persuasion, Mansfield Park and Northanger Abbey are to be given the small-screen treatment in films scheduled for autumn 2006.

Nick Elliott, the ITV drama commissioner, said: "Viewers love Jane Austen. Her stories always make great TV drama and our Jane Austen season will feature the absolute cream of British acting talent." Andrew Davies, who wrote the screenplay for the BBC's Pride and Prejudice starring Colin Firth, as well as the BBC adaptation of Charles Dickens's Bleak House, will adapt Northanger Abbey for ITV.

The first of Austen's novels, although not published until after her death, it tells the story of Catherine Morland, an impressionable young heroine much affected by Anne Radcliffe's gothic novel The Mysteries of Udolpho. When she goes to stay with her friend Henry Tilney at his father's estate she sees mystery and intrigue everywhere, even though Northanger is surprisingly clean and modern.

Maggie Wadey, whose previous credits include the BBC's 1986 version of Northanger Abbey, is adapting Mansfield Park, the tale of demure Fanny Price, a poor relation who goes to live with her wealthy, but reckless, cousins. It is being made by Company Pictures, which also produced Channel 4's hit Shameless.

John Hannah's production company, Clerkenwell Films, is developing Persuasion, the last novel Austen completed, which was also published posthumously.

Anne Elliott, the heroine of Persuasion, is in her late twenties and considered an old maid. Several years before the novel's action begins, she was persuaded by her family to break off her engagement to her true love Captain Wentworth, who unexpectedly reappears.

ITV will also repeat its 1997 adaptation of Emma starring Kate Beckinsale and Samantha Morton, adapted by Davies, as part of its Austen season. The tale of Emma Woodhouse, a headstrong young woman who tries to organise the lives of those around her while remaining blind to her own affection for her brooding neighbour Mr Knightley, was originally watched by 12 million viewers.

Cast details of the three new dramas have yet to be announced.