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Last Updated: Friday, 8 October, 2004, 08:12 GMT 09:12 UK
Jane Austen's enduring appeal

By Caroline Westbrook
BBC News Online

Bride and Prejudice
Bride and Prejudice closely follows Austen's story

Jane Austen's novels have inspired a long line of screen adaptations. In new film Bride and Prejudice, which opens on Friday, her best known work receives a Bollywood make-over.

However much it might look like a Bollywood movie, the resemblances between director Gurinder Chadha's latest release and Austen's Pride and Prejudice are not hard to spot.

While it's been moved to a provincial Indian town - and given song and dance numbers - the basic premise is the same.

This time around, however, the film focuses on the Bakshi family (instead of the Bennets) who are trying to find suitors for their four daughters.

Chadha makes no secret of the fact that Austen's novel served very closely as the source material for the film, so much so that the story is almost identical.

But she says the universal nature of Austen's stories allows them to be interpreted in any number of ways.

"Our version may have different cultures and settings, but it's still about people marrying from different backgrounds. I wanted to combine British film tradition with Bollywood - what better marriage than Pride and Prejudice?

"It is very true to Jane Austen and the spirit of the book, and I think if she came down and went to see it in her local Odeon she would like it."

Multiple adaptations

But Chadha is not the only person who's been rushing to put Austen's much-loved work on the screen.

A more traditional version of the novel is due in cinemas in 2005, this time starring Keira Knightley as Lizzie Bennet and Spooks star Matthew MacFadyen as Mr Darcy.

Colin Firth in Pride and Prejudice
Colin Firth won his heart-throb status as Mr Darcy

The forthcoming version will mark the ninth time - including Bride and Prejudice - that the novel, in some shape or form, has been transferred to film or TV.

A little-known, very early TV version was made in 1938, but it made its first successful transition from stage to screen with the 1940 film adaptation, starring Laurence Olivier as Darcy and Greer Garson as Lizzie Bennet.

Horror legend Peter Cushing also tried his hand at the role, opposite Prunella Scales in a 1952 small screen version.

And Colin Firth shot to stardom - and confirmed his heart-throb status - when he stepped into Darcy's breeches in a BBC TV version in 1995.

Currently, John Leslie is touring the country in a theatrical version, playing the part of Lizzie's other would-be suitor, the caddish Mr Wickham.

Another interpretation of the book found its way to the big screen last year.

Pride and Prejudice: A Latter Day Comedy reset the novel in an American college, with Lizzie portrayed as a conscientious student caught in a love traingle with good-looking playboy Wickham and sensible businessman Darcy.

The film, which starred a cast of unknowns, was released in the US last year but has yet to make it to the UK.

Austen mania

But it's not just Pride and Prejudice which has been keeping film-makers busy in recent years - a whole spate of Austen adaptations have graced big and small screens over the past decade.

Bridget Jones
Bridget Jones is a fan of Austen's hero

They range from the high-profile (Gwyneth Paltrow in Emma, Kate Winslet and Emma Thompson in Sense and Sensibility) through to 1999's low-key film version of Mansfield Park, and the 1995 adaptation of Persuasion, starring Amanda Root and Ciaran Hinds.

More modern spins on Austen's novels have included the 1995 hit Clueless, which took the story of Emma and set it in an affluent Beverly Hills high school.

And, Bridget Jones's Diary offers more than a passing nod to Pride and Prejudice - Bridget is a Mr Darcy obsessive who ultimately ends up with a man called Darcy (played, ironically enough, by Colin Firth).

'Contemporary and relevant'

Given the enduring popularity of the books and attendant films, it looks as though Austen mania will be with us for a while yet.

"The appeal of adapting Austen is that her novels have more dramatic incident than a year's worth of EastEnders," says Ian Freer, associate editor of film magazine Empire.

"These are beautifully constructed stories of heartbreak and happiness populated by good-looking people and adorned with period finery which is the stuff of populist movies.

The fact that they also come with a set of social restrictions that can be translated into any environment - from a US high school in Clueless to an inter-racial romance in Bride And Prejudice - increases their appeal as they still feel contemporary and relevant."


SEE ALSO:
Bollywood Austen film's UK debut
04 Oct 04 |  Entertainment
Chadha takes Austen to Bollywood
01 Oct 04 |  Entertainment
Spy drama star is 'new Mr Darcy'
14 Jun 04 |  Entertainment
Pride of place for country house
24 Aug 04 |  Wiltshire
Mr Darcy voted dream date
02 Jun 03 |  Entertainment
Austen edition fetches 22,000
08 Jul 03 |  Scotland


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