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By Deborah Yaffe, Jul 12 2018 01:00PM

For the Jane Austen world, it qualifies as blockbuster news: Revered screenwriter Andrew Davies, the man behind the iconic 1995 BBC miniseries of Pride and Prejudice and adaptations of three other Austen novels, has adapted Sanditon, the novel Austen left unfinished at her death, into a miniseries of its own.


Earlier this week, PBS’s Masterpiece series announced that it is collaborating with Britain’s ITV on a version of Sanditon, the story of Charlotte Heywood's adventures in an up-and-coming seaside resort, that will likely begin filming next spring.


“The twists and turns of the plot, which take viewers from the West Indies to the rotting alleys of London, expose the hidden agendas of each character and sees [sic] Charlotte discover herself… and ultimately find love,” the press release promises.


Those of us who have read Sanditon’s tantalizing 24,000 words will not remember any scenes set in the West Indies or in London alleys, whether rotting or otherwise, so it’s pretty clear that this production will be more Davies than Austen.


Indeed, a lot more: Masterpiece is promising us eight hour-long episodes, and even shaving off a few minutes per episode to allow space to advertise Danube cruises, that’s a big chunk of airtime. Davies managed to squeeze all 122,000 words of P&P into a mere six episodes running to five and a half hours. Heck, his version of War and Peace ran less than six and a half.


Davies, famed for allegedly "sexing-up" Jane Austen, is apparently up to his usual tricks this time around: His new version of Sanditon features "quite a bit of nude bathing," he promises, possibly with tongue firmly ensconced in cheek (although, with Davies, you never know).


For Sanditon fans, the big unanswered question is what the new production means for an earlier Sanditon project, Fluidity Films’ long aborning feature-length version, based on the 1975 completion of Austen’s fragment by Australian journalist and novelist Marie Dobbs.


More than two years ago, we were treated to exciting casting news – Charlotte Rampling as Lady Denham! – and confident-sounding predictions of a 2017 release date. Late that year, filming was said to be delayed until 2018. And although Fluidity Films’ website still lists the production, it offers no details about timing.


Could two separate Sanditons – one a conventional two-hour-long period film, the other a sweeping seven-hour wallow in melodrama – find audiences, potentially within mere months of each other? If Janeites ran the world (and wouldn’t everyone be better off if we did? You know it), the answer wouldn’t be in doubt.


By Deborah Yaffe, Sep 21 2017 01:00PM

The Jane Austen adaptation factory never seems to stop churning out fresh material. By now, the proliferating combinations and recombinations for stage and screen – I’m not even talking about the books! -- are enough to make the head spin: straight-up Regency, Regency plus zombies, Regency plus murder mystery, Regency plus time travel, modern-day update (American), modern-day update (Indian), Austen biographical, ballet, opera, talking dog. . .


And yet more is on the horizon, judging from a few tidbits of news that came my way in the past week or two.


* ABC plans to air a pilot, and perhaps an entire TV series, adapted from Curtis Sittenfeld’s best-selling 2016 novel Eligible, which updated Pride and Prejudice to contemporary Cincinnati. Regular blog readers will recall that I enjoyed Eligible, and a “soapy drama series” based on it could be kind of fun – though after the first few episodes, it presumably won’t have much to do with Jane Austen. No word on when we can look for this, but I hope it's soon! I'm having new-Austen-adaptation withdrawal symptoms.


* Jane Austen’s relatively quiet life has, improbably, already spawned not one but two screen dramatizations (Becoming Jane and Miss Austen Regrets). And now Austen the Musical – which is, as you might expect, a musical-theater version of that same quiet life – is launching UK and US tours. (The UK performances run from October 2017 to April 2018; no US dates have been announced yet).


Apparently, the show has already played to good reviews in arty venues like the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. I must confess that I felt a qualm when I ran across website copy telling me that “Austen the Musical explores Jane’s struggle to have her work published in a male dominated environment, her romances and her vow to reject a woman’s lifestyle in Georgian England.” (Qualms since a) it’s not clear that her publishing struggles were gender-related; b) her romances are mostly fictitious; and c) I’m unaware of any such feminist “vow.”) But I’m willing to give the show a shot if it comes to a theater near me.


* Meanwhile, the horizon has receded a bit for the long-awaited movie of Sanditon, the novel Austen left unfinished at her death, according to an interview the film’s producer gave to the period drama website Willow and Thatch. (Scroll down to “Update 9/6/2017.”) Back in early 2016, there was talk of a 2017 release -- I blogged about the movie here and here -- but now it looks as if filming won’t even start until next year. Until then, I guess we’ll have to content ourselves with other products of the Austen adaptation factory.


By Deborah Yaffe, May 4 2017 01:00PM

The year advances apace, and yet there still doesn’t seem to be a release date for the supposed-to-come-out-in-2017 film adaptation of Sanditon, the novel Jane Austen died without finishing.


But another Austen-related film project is apparently now in the works: an adaptation of a 2016 young-adult novel called The Season, which updates Pride and Prejudice to the world of Texas debutantes.


The book, by Jonah Lisa Dyer and Stephen Dyer, passed me by when it came out last summer, but a movie? Bring it on! As regular blog readers know, I’ll see virtually anything semi-Austenian, on the big or small screen. Heck, I watched Unleashing Mr. Darcy.


Still, it’s worth remembering that the journey from studio-acquires-story to movie-appears-in-multiplex can be long and fraught. Remember Jane By the Sea, the romantic comedy/biopic that was flavor of the month two years ago? Yeah. Me neither.


By Deborah Yaffe, Jan 2 2017 02:00PM

Happy new year, Janeites! For us fans of Jane Austen, 2017 is a big year, the biggest since – well, since 2013, when we celebrated the bicentenary of the publication of Pride and Prejudice, still Austen’s most popular work.


This year, we have an altogether more melancholy occasion to mark – the two hundredth anniversary of Austen’s death, on July 18, 1817, at the all-too-young age of forty-one. (Depending how you count, it may also be the bicentenary of Northanger Abbey and Persuasion, published together in a three-volume set that appeared in December 1817 with a title-page publication date of 1818.)


Across the planet, and especially in Austen’s home country of England, Austen fans will celebrate her life and mourn her death at balls, exhibits, lectures, conferences and festivals. Our shelves will creak under the weight of Austen-related books published to coincide with the anniversary. And in Britain, wallets will fill up with Austen-embellished currency. We may even get to see a new Austen movie.


An unscientific, and undoubtedly incomplete, sampling of what’s ahead:

By Deborah Yaffe, May 5 2016 01:00PM

Regular blog readers know that I’m squeeing with excitement over the upcoming film adaptation of Sanditon, the novel Jane Austen left unfinished at her death. Though I've duly noted the casting announcements -- Charlotte Rampling as Lady Denham, Holliday Grainger as Charlotte Heywood, Max Irons as Sidney Parker -- somehow I’d missed until recently this link to the website of production company Fluidity Films, which answers a key question about the shape of the project: how the screenplay will finish Jane Austen's truncated story.


The site makes explicitly clear that the filmmakers plan to follow the plot of the best-known and most widely admired Sanditon completion, the 1975 version by Australian novelist and journalist Marie Dobbs (1924-2015). (Spoiler alert: the plot synopsis summarizes the whole plot, so don’t read more than halfway if you’d rather not know how it all ends.)


As I noted when I reviewed Dobbs’ book for my Sanditon Summer blog series, her version is workmanlike and enjoyable, although it lacks Austen’s biting wit. In the right hands, however, it should make a delightful film. My squeeing continues unabated.


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