Step aside Britney Spears. Movie moguls, television producers and publishers believe this year’s teen hit will be the 19th-century “lit girl” Jane Austen.
The life and works of the author, who died a spinster at the age of 41 in 1817, form the basis of no fewer than six forthcoming films and television series, along with plans for new editions of her works, tailored to the teenage market.
A host of young stars, including Billie Piper, best known for her role as Rose Tyler in Doctor Who, James McAvoy, who starred in Channel 4’s Shameless, and Anne Hathaway, the star of The Princess Diaries will spearhead the new Austen revival which, unlike previous adaptations, will be aimed at younger viewers.
Bookshops and libraries, anticipating a surge of interest in the author as a result of her exposure on both the big and small screens, are planning major displays of her works. A spokesman for Waterstone’s, Britain’s biggest bookseller, predicted it would sell more copies of Austen’s works than at any time since Colin Firth emerged from a lake during the BBC’s adaptation of Pride and Prejudice in 1995, while Penguin said it planned new editions of the author’s six best-known works with covers designed to appeal to teenagers.
The Austen revival will begin next month with the release of the film Becoming Jane, which examines the author’s romance with Thomas Langlois Lefroy, the Irish politician. The lead roles are taken by Hathaway, the actress who rose to prominence playing alongside Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada, and McAvoy, who previously played Mr Tumnus in The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe.
Douglas Rae, the film’s producer, said: “We are on course for the most prolific year of Jane Austen’s career in terms of television and film coverage. We went with Anne because we know she will bring a young teen audience with her film. Many of the 11-year-olds who fell in love with her in The Princess Diaries are now just turning 15. They are the right age for Austen.”
Julian Jarrold, the film’s director, said: “There is a stereotype of Jane as a spinster obsessed with manners. But we are looking at her when she is 21, full of life and hope and kicking against the restrictions around her.”
Andrew Davies, who has written adaptations of Sense and Sensibility for the BBC and Northanger Abbey for ITV, predicted a new generation of teenagers would fall in love with Austen and her work.
Davies, who wrote the screenplay for the 1995 Pride and Prejudice said: “The effect of all of these projects will make for a Jane Austen frenzy. The stories are absolutely contemporary. They are about sex and they are about money. One of the good things about Jane Austen is the men. They are real men – classy and rather scary. That makes them terrific for a female audience.”