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Jane Austen extravaganza

`Nip/Tuck' changes the scenery in its fifth season as the show's doctors head for Beverly Hills.

July 13, 2007|Lynn Smith

Writers at the gathering received an odd but endearing piece of swag from PBS: a Jane Austen action figure. After 200 years of literary acclaim, it's come to this: a toy that moves stiffly, carries a quill, a writing desk and a tiny copy of "Pride and Prejudice."

Of course there's more: Starting in January, "Masterpiece Theater" will be showing an Austen extravaganza, "The Complete Jane Austen" -- new productions of "Mansfield Park," "Northanger Abbey," "Persuasion" and "Sense and Sensibility." The weekly feature will include reruns of "Emma," with Kate Beckinsale, and "Pride and Prejudice," with Colin Firth, and there will be a new biopic, "Miss Austen Regrets."

Rebecca Eaton, executive producer of "Masterpiece" and "Mystery!," who led a breakfast panel of English actors and screenwriter Andrew Davies, couldn't contain a bit of resentment toward the upcoming feature film "Becoming Jane," which also looks at Austen's life but with a larger budget and, she said, less scope.

"It's hard for us to watch it," she said. "Ours is closer to the truth and more complicated."

Some of new adaptations are sexier and wordier than the Austen books, famous for high-pressure courtships in picturesque landscapes; smart, witty women; and strong, silent men. In Austen's novels, all the running is a substitute for sexual energy, Davies said.

David Morrissey ("Viva Blackpool" and "Meadowlands"), who plays the vulnerable, chivalrous Col. Brandon of "Sense and Sensibility," acts out a scene with other men where he can actually be emotional, Davies said. In another scene, he gets to show his soft side by stroking a hawk that lands on his fist. When they filmed the scene, Morrissey said, the hawk had been attracted to a chick on his hand and was eating it, scattering all the feathers.

Curiously, Eaton noted that although Austen's novels focused on finding the right mate (one who is loving and rich), almost all of the married couples in her stories are miserable.

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