Austen's final unfinished novel to be made into 'lavish' ITV series

Austen's final unfinished novel to be made into 'lavish' ITV series

Andrew Davies is developing Jane Austen’s unfinished final novel for a “lavish” new drama series for ITV.

Austen’s original 11-chapter fragment Sanditon featuring “class divide, ambition, power play and matters of the heart” has been extended into an eight-part series of 60 minute episodes. The unfinished novel was written shortly before Austen's death in 1817 and spans from the alleys of London to the West Indies.

ITV’s head of drama, Polly Hill, commissioned the series with London-based TV production company Red Planet Pictures acting as producers and Masterpiece, the drama strand on US public service broadcasting network PBS, acting as co-production partners. Emmy and BAFTA Award-winning Davies, of “Pride and Prejudice” and “War and Peace”, will bring the novel to a wide television audience for the first time.

The “sumptuous” drama will be executive produced by Red Planet Pictures’ creative director Belinda Campbell, who has previously worked on “Death in Paradise” and “Dickensian” along with Masterpiece’s Rebecca Eaton. Georgina Lowe will be series producer with Jill Trevellick appointed as casting director. Casting will be announced shortly with filming expected to commence in spring 2019. BBC Studios is distributing the series internationally.

“Written only months before Austen’s death in 1817, Sanditon tells the story of the joyously impulsive, spirited and unconventional Charlotte Heywood and her spiky relationship with the humorous, charming (and slightly wild) Sidney Parker,” an ITV spokesperson said. “When a chance accident transports her from her rural hometown of Willingden to the would-be coastal resort of the eponymous title, it exposes Charlotte to the intrigues and dalliances of a seaside town on the make, and the characters whose fortunes depend on its commercial success.”

The twists and turns of the plot, which takes viewers from the West Indies to the rotting alleys of London, exposes the hidden agendas of each character and sees Charlotte discover herself as well as love, the spokesperson said.

“Jane Austen managed to write only a fragment of her last novel before she died - but what a fragment,” Davies said.

“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.”

He said that it has been “a privilege and a thrill for me to develop Sanditon into a TV drama for a modern audience”.

Hill said: “It’s a rich, romantic, family saga built upon the foundations Jane Austen laid. There is no one better to adapt her unfinished novel than Andrew who has an incredible track record for bold and original adaptations."

Campbell said: “Andrew Davies’ compelling scripts bear all the hallmarks of the biting social commentary and realism that makes Jane Austen one of the most widely read writers in English literature. Sanditon’s themes of class divide, ambition, power play and matters of the heart are as relevant today as they were in the early 19th century and we can’t wait to bring this incredible adaptation to life for ITV audiences to enjoy.”

Eaton said: “We can’t wait to introduce our audience to this wise and wonderful drama.”  

Masterpiece is a drama anthology television series produced by WGBH Boston which brings various numerous acclaimed British productions to US audiences including "Downton Abbey" and "Sherlock" on PBS (American public broadcaster and television program distributor, Public Broadcasting Service). Eaton has been credited with helping the "latest British creative wave to hit the US".