There’s exciting news for those of us in the South West/Bristol area.
As you probably already know, Andrew Davies, the writer behind behind the likes of the TV adaptations of Pride and Prejudice 1995 and War and Peace has joined the team at Red Planet Pictures who are planning to film a production of Jane’s unfinished novel Sanditon. It’s set to begin filming in Spring 2019, and who it will star is yet to be announced.
Jane Austen managed to write only a fragment of her last novel before she died – but what a fragment! Sanditon tells the story of the transformation of a sleepy fishing village into a fashionable seaside resort, with a spirited young heroine, a couple of entrepreneurial brothers, some dodgy financial dealings, a West Indian heiress, and quite a bit of nude bathing. It’s been a privilege and a thrill for me to develop Sanditon into a TV drama for a modern audience.
As it is in it’s early stages of planning, not many details are known as of yet about the intricacies of the plot/script/costumes etc. However, the latest news to emerge from the Red Planet Pictures press team is that Bristol is going to be one of the main filming locations for the production! Exciting news since Bath is only half an hour away!
Specific locations in the Bristol area have not yet been named, but adverts have been spotted online calling for Sanditon filming crew at Bottle Yard Studios (a well-established studio based in Whitchurch on the outer fringes of Bristol). Who knows, perhaps a few of the Centre staff may be able to snag roles as extras!
Sanditon tells the story of the impulsive and spirited Charlotte Heywood, and her volatile relationship with the charming Sidney Parker. When a chance accident takes Charlotte from her rural hometown of Willingden to the up-and-coming coastal resort of Sanditon, it exposes Charlotte to the intrigues and dalliances of a seaside town on the rise, and the characters whose fortunes depend on its commercial success.
This will be the first time that Sanditon will have been brought to a television audience. The Jane Austen News is really looking forward to it.
Jane Austen’s unfinished novel Sanditon is being adapted for television for the first time ever, and at the head of the project is the screenwriter behind the iconic 1995 Pride and Prejudice TV adaptation, Andrew Davies.
On July 10, Polly Hill, ITV’s Head of Drama, announced plans to bring Sanditon to life for television audiences in the U.K. and – good news for American Austen fans – in the U.S.A too. The series will be a collaboration between Red Planet Pictures and Masterpiece on PBS. It will be an eight-part drama and will be based on the eleven chapter fragments author Jane Austen left behind in the manuscript she was working on at the time of her death.
Jane Austen managed to write only a fragment of her last novel before she died – but what a fragment! Sanditon tells the story of the transformation of a sleepy fishing village into a fashionable seaside resort, with a spirited young heroine, a couple of entrepreneurial brothers, some dodgy financial dealings, a West Indian heiress, and quite a bit of nude bathing.
There’s no news on which actors might be featured in the series yet, and a release date is also yet to be announced, but filming for Sanditon is expected to begin as early as spring 2019. We can hardly wait!
This week we were surprised to learn that a new program in New York is severely restricting the books which will be available in prisons. This new program, amazingly, has effectively banned, among other classic authors, Jane Austen’s books.
Directive 4911A, as it is known, is currently being applied to three prisons in the state, but it could soon be expanded to every facility in New York. The plan limits packages that incarcerated people in New York state prisons can receive to items purchased from six vendors (with two more expected to be added). The idea is that this will “enhance the safety and security of correctional facilities through a more controlled inmate package program.”
This in itself isn’t a problem, but the range of books on offer is shockingly limited. The first five vendors combined offered just five romance novels, 14 religious texts, 24 drawing or coloring books, 21 puzzle books, 11 how-to books, one dictionary, and one thesaurus. (A sixth vendor has added some additional books to the list, but the full list will not be available to all prisoners.)
One group, the Books Through Bars collective, has been working to raise red flags about the directive’s unintended consequences (for more than 20 years, Books Through Bars has been sending books to people in prison in 40 states at no charge).
A spokesperson from Books Through Bars has stated the the new directive will mean “no Jane Austen, Ernest Hemingway, Maya Angelou, or other literature that helps people connect with what it means to be human. No texts that help provide skills essential to finding and maintaining work after release from prison. No books about health, about history, about almost anything inside or outside the prison walls. This draconian restriction closes off so much of the world to thousands of people.”
We agree. Surely allowing prisoners to read Jane Austen’s books can only result in good things?
Sir Walter Scott confessed that, although he could write action adventure novels “like any now going,” he lacked Jane Austen’s genius, “the exquisite touch, which renders ordinary commonplace things and characters interesting.” Filmmakers should take note. Infusing an Austen novel with testosterone does not make it better, and the 2008 BBC Sense and Sensibility seems to prove the point.
The made for TV Sense and Sensibility develops the story of the male characters and emphasizes the building antagonism between Colonel Brandon (David Morrissey) and John Willoughby (Dominic Cooper). Granted, Austen’s Sense and Sensibility alludes to the sad fate of Eliza Williams and mentions a duel, presumably with pistols, but Austen dwells on neither event, as they do not forward her main story, the plight of the Dashwoods. However, Eliza (Caroline Hayes) and the duel feature prominently in the three hour film as Colonel Brandon takes center stage. So much refocusing on Sense and Sensibility’s male characters requires the invention of new scenes and a great deal of dialogue that Jane Austen never wrote, such as the “a word with you in private, Mr. Willoughby” scene early in the film, which clearly identifies Brandon as a stricken, Byronic hero and Willoughby as a dyed in the wool villain. But why give away so much so soon?
Jane Austen’s Willoughby is a charm merchant, simultaneously deceiving Marianne, the other characters and the first time reader with his winning ways. We are puzzled by his odd behavior, shocked to learn of his duplicity and surprised by his confession. In complete contrast, the film’s Willoughby oozes onto the screen, slides about like Edmund Blackadder and then exits leaving a slug trail behind. The clear delineation between Brandon and Willoughby reduces the plot to a standard contest between good and evil with Eliza Williams and Marianne Dashwood as pawns to be won or lost by the contending males. When Willoughby snubs Marianne in London, the Dashwood sisters fade from the screen as the camera lingers on Brandon’s glare of seething hatred. The scene is clearly Brandon’s, but, in Austen’s novel, Brandon is not even present at the ball. When the Brandon/Willoughby feud finally builds up to the sword fight, yes, sword fight, it feels more like watching Russell Crowe’s Master and Commander than an adaptation of an Austen novel. But in the midst of all of this swashbuckling and male bravado, we must not lose track of Edward Ferrars, who has transformed beyond recognition from the Edward of Austen’s book.
Austen’s Edward is shy, socially awkward and “not handsome.” Additionally, “his manners required intimacy to make them pleasing.” But there’s none of that in Dan Stevens’ Edward Ferrars. From his first appearance in the invented carpet beating scene, Edward is witty, articulate, confident and flashing a charming smile. Edward’s depression and “want of spirits” in the novel are replaced with anger which he unleashes on the Dashwoods’ wood pile, in the rain. It is an odd business.
No doubt, the BBC filmmakers felt the pressure of adapting Austen’s novel in the wake of the tremendous success of Emma Thompson’s 1995 Sense and Sensibility and attempted to create something different. Thus, it appears a bit strange that Elinor Dashwood (Hattie Morahan) seems to have borrowed Emma Thompson’s voice, and Marianne Dashwood (Charity Wakefield) has Kate Winslet’s hair. As in Thompson’s film, we see the courtship of Elinor through Edward’s winning over of an adorable Margaret (in this case Lucy Boynton), and Colonel Brandons in both films seem inclined to rescue their Mariannes from torrential rainstorms and carry them about, none of which takes place in Austen’s novel. One has to feel sympathy for Morahan and Wakefield, following in the footsteps as they do of BAFTA and Academy Award winning actresses in the same roles. And the women’s parts have changed very little, so it sometimes seems that we are watching the Thompson film with stand-ins. However, both actresses perform admirably.
The first half of the film doesn’t quite make it to the end of Austen’s first volume, one third of the story, which probably explains why most of Austen’s other characters have been cut to the bone. Janet McTeer is particularly sympathetic as Mrs. Dashwood. The shameless John Dashwood (Mark Gatiss) and his appalling wife Fanny (Claire Skinner) are appropriately odious, and their gluttonous son (Morgan Overton) is the perfect embodiment of his parents’ insatiable greed. Mrs. Jennings (Linda Bassett) is little more than a plot device, and Lucy Steele (Anna Madeley) is also reduced to necessity. Sir John Middleton (Mark Williams), Lady Middleton (Rosanna Lavelle), Robert Ferrars (Leo Bill), Mr. Palmer (Tim McMullan) and the garrulous Charlotte (Tabitha Wady) are given cameo appearances and a very few lines. Jean Marsh is perfect as the obnoxious Mrs. Ferrars, and Daisy Haggard was an unexpected treat as the dimwitted Nancy Steele. Alas, their screen time is all too short, and when Austen’s minor characters go, they take their humour with them.
The windswept scenery is dramatic and beautiful, though more Bronte’s Wuthering Heights than Austen’s Sense and Sensibility, and nature seems to be yet another dangerous character. In the novel, Marianne’s illness is brought on from walking in tall grass and sitting in her wet shoes and stockings. In the film, Marianne has a death wish and deliberately exposes herself to the elements in an open field during a thunder storm where she is lashed by rain, soaked to the skin and possibly struck by lightning. A seduction, a rescue, a sword fight, jealousy, betrayal, obsession, hatred, revenge, it’s all a bit over the top, but no doubt Northanger Abbey’s Catherine Morland would have enjoyed it.
Sheryl Craig is an Instructor at the University of Central Missouri. She is currently pursuing a PhD at the University of Kansas.
Another Jane Austen novel is being dusted off for the big screen. This time, Miramax films is co-producing Northanger Abbey. It’s a $9 million feature adaptation of Jane Austen’s first published novel. Shooting begins this fall in Bath, an historic city to about 150 kilometres southwest of London and well-known to Austen. Bath is noted for its handsome 18th century architecture.
May 25, 1998 CBC Infoculture
Such was the news in 1998. Now, nearly ten years later, Northanger Abbey has finally made it to film, albeit on the small screen. The story of how it finally made it to television is not unlike Jane Austen’s original difficulty in having her book published!
The manuscript for Northanger Abbey (written, according to Cassandra Austen, in 1798-99) was sold by the Rev. Austen to Richard Crosby & Co. in 1803 under the title Susan. It was the first of Austen’s stories to be sold and commanded the princely sum of £10. It is clear that Crosby & Co. had no idea of its value. Though they advertised it as a forthcoming work, they let it rest on their shelves, unread and unpublished. After the sale of Sense and Sensibility, Jane Austen was at liberty to buy back her work, though under an assumed name. Crosby & Co. should never know how close they came to success.
After retouching the work and writing a preface explaining to her readers why they might find some of her story antiquated, she set the work aside. Though Austen called the work Miss Catherine in private, it would not be printed until after her death in 1817, when it was retitled Northanger Abbey and bundled, by her brother Henry, into a four volume set which also included Persuasion.
Andrew Davies was first noted by Jane Austen fans for his Emmy nominated adaptation of Pride and Prejudice(1995) and Jane Austen’s Emma in 1996. The idea for writing one of Jane Austen’s works came after previewing the 1986 version of Northanger Abbey. He remembers the evening well: ‘It was an interesting, quirky adaptation and afterwards Sue [Birtwistle – Producer of Pride and Prejudice and Emma] turned to me and said: “I know what I’d like to do: Pride and Prejudice and make it look like a fresh, lively story about real people…..Would you like to adapt it?” It’s a favorite book of mine, so I said, “Yes,” and that was that.’
Regarding Jane Austen’s works, Davies says, “there is a certain amount of liberty that you can take. You can’t change the actual story, but there’s always some hidden scenes in the book that Austen didn’t get around to writing herself, and it’s nice to fill in some of the little gaps.” Davies says he had great material to work with, since Austen “writes the best plots and characters, and her dialogue is terrific. So while there’s this little craze I’m just going to take advantage of it for all I’m worth.”
Northanger Abbey was his third attempt scripting one of Jane Austen’s novels and fans around the world eagerly awaited the fruit of his labor. As Austen biographer Deirdre Le Faye put it, “The 1986 version was awful. Andrew Davies certainly could not do worse than that.”
By 1998, Davies had written a script for ITV which was then purchased by Miramax Pictures, producers of Emma and the soon to be released Mansfield Park. Davies looked forward to the opportunity to see his work on the big screen, but after the failure of Mansfield Park in 1999, Miramax shelved all Austen projects. It was a disappointing time for Davies as his script was no longer his to command.
For years afterward, rumors flew rampant about the upcoming production of the film—- first that actress Rachel Leigh Cook had been signed to play Catherine, and later, that Martin Amis had been hired to redraft the script— still—no action was taken. It was not until 2005 when Pride and Prejudice finally made it to the big screen that a new Austen film phenomenon began to take place. Suddenly there were four versions of her novels being filmed for television and a new biopic headed for theaters.
Miramax claimed that though they were thrilled with the original script from Mr. Davies, they were unable to find a director for the picture. Whatever the case, the script was eventually reacquired by ITV in 2002 and relegated to a back burner until the spring of 2006. At that time ITV began plans for their Spring 2007 Jane Austen Season to feature all new adaptations of Mansfield Park, Persuasion, and finally, Northanger Abbey, perhaps the most anticipated film of all.
A cast of Austen newcomers was assembled and filming began with Ireland standing in for Bath and the surrounding countryside. Felicity Jones was signed to play Catherine Morland and JJ Field took the part of Henry Tilney. A few familiar faces appeared in the guise of Mrs. Allen (Sylvestra Le Touzel, Mansfield Park’s Fanny Price, 1983) and Isabella Thorpe (Carey Mulligan, Kitty Bennet in 2005’s Pride and Prejudice).
Running a scant 93 minutes, Northanger Abbey manages to hit the high points of Austen’s novel, retaining it’s sometimes comic feel and satisfying, romantic ending. Changes have been made and purists will cry out at some of the plot rearrangements. The Mysteries of Udolpho, so central to the original story, though mentioned here, has been replaced by The Monk, Matthew Gregory Lewis’ 1796 horrifying gothic novel with Faust like overtones. Catherine’s imaginings, well recalled from the 1986 version, are alive and well here, and give the film it’s TVPG rating.
William Beck makes a suitably obnoxious villain as John Thorpe and Mark Dymond’s brooding Capt Tilney a satisfying match for Isabella’s wayward heart. The rest of the Tilney family is also well cast, with Liam Cunningham as an aging General Tilney and Catherine Walker as Henry’s retiring elder sister, Eleanor. Her romance is hinted at when we receive a brief glimpse of a clandestine meeting with her beloved. The Morland children are shown en masse and we can well imagine Catherine’s simple, happy childhood. Hugh O’Connor gives a convincing portrayal as her elder brother, James Morland, a man who loved ‘not too wisely, but too well.’
The costumes are lovely and the scenes sumptuous with period details abounding. There are numerous country dances danced and a variety of Regency past times portrayed. All in all, Northanger Abbey, while not a definitive portrayal of Jane Austen’s first novel, remains a delightful way to spend an hour and a half. The timeless romance of the story is left intact and the acting well above the average in a television movie. To quote Mr. Davies, “Felicity Jones was just about perfect as Catherine…and JJ Field made a very persuasive Henry Tilney.” Few would disagree with that!
Northanger Abbey is available in Region 2 DVD format from Amazon.co.uk. It is set to air in the United States in November during Masterpiece Theater’s Fall/Winter schedule on PBS. Check your local listings for dates and times.
Laura Boyle runs Austentation: Regency Accessories, creating custom made hats, bonnets and reticules in the Regency style. Sources for this article include The Making of Pride and Prejudice, by by Susie Conklin and Sue Birtwistle, as well as personal correspondence with Mr. Davies.
It is a truth, universally acknowledged that the 1995 version of Pride and Prejudice is the most wildly popular dramatization of Jane Austen’s work ever to grace the screen, large or small. No other work has inspired such fan devotion, being the source of countless websites, news articles, and even books. Until this time, we had movies that were based on the novel by Jane Austen. Now we have novels which are based on the Jane Austen movie! P&P2, a co-production of the BBC and A&E television, was shown in Britain in the fall of 1995 and in the USA in January, 1996.First imagined in 1986 when Producer Sue Birtwistle and screenwriter Andrew Davies met at a showing of Northanger Abbey, the film took nine years to create from start to finish and remains the measuring stick of all other Jane Austen films. Continue reading Pride and Prejudice: 1995