New generation of teenagers prepare to be seduced with rebirth of Austen

Lee Glendinning
Friday 16 February 2007 01:00 GMT

It is a truth universally acknowledged that so long as there is a new generation of lovelorn teenagers to be seduced by a series of happy endings, the inevitable glamorisation, refashioning and repackaging of Jane Austen will roll on.

This year, however, will see an unprecedented scale of adaptations to detail the surging emotions suppressed beneath scores of empire-line dresses.

Sunday evenings may not be able to promise the vision of Colin Firth emerging from a lake but from the middle of next month they will offer new versions of Mansfield Park, Persuasion and Northanger Abbey featuring Billie Piper, Anthony Head and Jemma Redgrave.

Andrew Davies, who adapted the oft-recalled 1995 BBC series of Pride And Prejudice, is among the writers working on the season and ITV will also rerun his 1997 adaptation of Emma, which starred Kate Beckinsale and attracted 12 million viewers.

Then, within weeks, Anne Hathaway's portrayal of the early life of Austen, which documents the travails of Jane's own heart, will also be on screens across the world.

While some dedicated Austen fans may feel it has taken liberty with the scant facts available on Jane's romances and spun up a Hollywood fiction, the film is no doubt yet another avenue to satisfy the insatiable appetite for the early 19th-century author.

ITV yesterday unveiled its new Austen season in what many have interpreted as an attempt to boost somewhat disappointing ratings figures of last year. Coupled with that, it is also an apt way to compete with the BBC, which has won widespread acclaim with its adaptations of Dickens' Bleak House, also written by Davies.

With millions of pounds committed to putting the two-hour adaptations together, the ITV director of drama, Nick Elliott, said they were important remakes for the new generation, some of whom will only just be becoming Austen-literate.

"About every 10 years, all the great stories need retelling. These films will be very much 2007 films... we've asked and pushed the production team to make them young. Her stories always make great TV drama and our Jane Austen season will feature the absolute cream of British acting talent."

Northanger Abbey, the novel which was sold to a Bath bookseller for £10 in 1803, will again be adapted by Davies. The plot surrounds the life of 17-year-old Catherine Morland, who arrives at Northanger on the invitation of Henry Tilney who fascinates and intrigues her.

Mansfield Park, which has been more recently adapted for cinema audiences, follows Fanny Price, the poor relation who finds herself living among wealthy relatives and whose virtue is ultimately returned by her true love Edmund. The adaptation is to be worked on by Maggie Wadey.

Persuasion, which is being developed by Clerkenwell Films, is about the ordeals of Anne Elliot, who breaks off her engagement to Captain Wentworth after being persuaded by her family, but manages to find her way back into his heart.

When first unveiling ITV's plans, Mr Elliott said he had shied away from Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility and deliberately chosen to feature Austen's lesser known works including Northanger Abbey and Persuasion - both of which were published after her death.

But no matter which it were to be, those who choose to switch on to the Sunday evenings (and possibly those in management of ITV), will be assured of one thing: their own series of a proven formula for happy endings.

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