Miss Austen Regrets – a drama for BBC One, 8.00pm, Sunday 27 April 2008
Based on the life and letters of Jane Austen, the BBC One feature-length drama Miss Austen Regrets tells the story of the novelist's final years, examining why, despite setting the standard for romantic fiction, she died having never married or met her own Mr Darcy.
Olivia Williams (The Sixth Sense) stars as Jane Austen who, approaching her 40th birthday, appears happily unmarried, displaying all the assured wit and charm of her novels' young heroines.
Yet when asked by her young niece, Fanny, played by rising star Imogen Poots (28 Weeks Later), to help her vet potential husbands, Jane's confident composure is threatened as she finds herself looking back on her own potential suitors and the choices she has made.
A chance meeting with a former acquaintance, Rev Brook Bridges (Hugh Bonneville – Freezing, Five Days), sees her reflect on a marriage that never was, while, when her family faces financial ruin, it is revealed that it all could have been very different had she only accepted a marriage proposal from a wealthy landowner, Harris Bigg.
And when her brother, Henry (Adrian Edmondson – Bottom, Holby City), is taken ill, Jane's passions are ignited by his handsome young physician, the charming Doctor Charles Haden, played by up-and-coming actor Jack Huston (Factory Girl).
Written by Gwyneth Hughes (Five Days) the drama provides an insight into Austen's own romantic life.
Speaking about her inspiration for writing the script, Gwyneth says: "Everyone knows Jane Austen never married. For her millions of fans this can only be a relief, because it's hard to see how a 19th-century wife and mother could have found time to write her six wonderful novels!
"All the same, you do wonder whether she minded; how this spinster lady felt about the absence of a real Mr Darcy in her life.
"And then I read the most extraordinary fact. Jane Austen did receive a proposal of marriage from a wealthy young neighbour. And she accepted! She actually said yes to him – till after a long night of discussion with her sister, Cassandra, she changed her mind.
"This intriguing decision inspired the story of Miss Austen Regrets."
With the script based on close reading of Austen's surviving letters, Gwyneth feels that she cannot claim sole credit for the film, commenting:
"The script is very tightly based on Austen's surviving letters to her sister and to her young niece, Fanny.
"So, I must share the credit for quite a lot of the dialogue with Miss Austen herself! And I must say, it's been a strange and humbling experience to feel this genius of English literature peering critically over my shoulder as I write. But I have loved every moment in her company."
Producer Anne Pivcevic also produced BBC One's acclaimed adaptation of Austen's Sense And Sensibility, which aired earlier this year.
She says: "Producing Miss Austen Regrets and Sense And Sensibility simultaneously last year was an inspiring and illuminating experience for me.
"Jane Austen's novels are glorious wish-fulfillment fantasies – each girl gets the man she deserves – but Austen's life, like most real lives, was far more complex and troublesome.
"Gwyneth has created a glitteringly, multi-faceted Jane: she is witty and sad, kind and cruel; a woman who feels regret but, at the same time, is happy with her choices; a woman who despite her 19th century context feels utterly contemporary."
Additional cast members include Phyllida Law (Mrs Austen), Pip Torrens (Edward Austen-Knight), Sylvie Herbert (Madame Bigeon) and Tom Hiddleston (John Plumptre).
Commissioned by Jane Tranter, Controller, BBC Fiction, Miss Austen Regrets was co-produced by WGBH.
Directed by Jeremy Lovering, the Executive Producer is David Thompson, former Head of BBC Films. The Producer is Anne Pivcevic. The Co-Producer is Jamie Laurenson.