Jane Austen Alert!

Masterpiece Theatre in the United States just announced that, beginning January 2008, they will present “The Complete Jane Austen.”

This will include new adaptations of Northanger Abbey, Mansfield Park, Persuasion, and Sense and Sensibility, plus the popular Andrew Davies-scripted adaptations of Emma (the one starring Kate Beckinsale) and Pride and Prejudice (the Jennifer Ehle/Colin Firth version.)

Two of the new adaptations will also be written by Andrew Davies (the new ITV Northanger Abbey and the new BBC Sense and Sensibility.)

I admit I was sadly disappointed by the 1986 “Peter Firth As A Creepy Tilney” version of Northanger Abbey, so I’m really hoping Davies and director Jon Jones give us a great interpretation of one of my favorite Austen novels.

This one stars lovely young Felicity Jones as Catherine (pictured here, on the cover of the British DVD release!)

By the way, I love Austen movie synchronicity — that is, finding that actors in one Austen (or Regency-interest) movie appear in another — and so I will point out that this Mrs. Allen is played by Sylvestra Le Touzel, who played Fanny in the 1983 Mansfield Park, and also appeared in the recent Amazing Grace.

My biggest worry with Northanger Abbey is that it was filmed entirely in Ireland. We’ve rolled our eyes at that before at Risky Regencies, but I think it’s worth doing again..

Northanger Abbey? Not at all filmed at Bath? The best Bath novel in the world, with the Pump Room and the Lower Rooms and the Upper Rooms and Milsom Street and Pulteney Street and everything else? The novel is practically a guide-book, or at least a high-brow advertisement, for Bath — so how can they make it without Bath?.

Okay, enough eye-rolling. Ironically enough, the only part of the earlier Northanger Abbey adaptation that I thoroughly liked was the gorgeous Bath backdrops.

Next up, perhaps the adaptation that has me worried most of all: Mansfield Park.

So: why does this have me worried, you ask? To begin with, look at the photo (courtesy of another UK DVD release.)

What is she wearing?

And why is her hair like that?

This actress, for those of you who haven’t already shouted “I know WHO she is!” (sorry, bad joke) is Billie Piper, famous for being the female sidekick of Dr. Who in the last few seasons. And her hair in Dr. Who is surprisingly similar to her hair here…

My second worry: the entire Mansfield Park is all of two hours long, including commercials.

(Plus, I confess I peeked at bits that were uploaded to YouTube, and I’m not terribly impressed.)

But I should give it the benefit of the doubt…right?

Here are some more pics.

They worry me too.

Mostly, it’s the hair.

And Fanny’s constant sulky/sexy expression.

Interestingly enough, the script for this adaptation was written by Maggie Wadey, who wrote the 1986 Northanger Abbey (the one you may have already noticed I don’t much care for. Then again, Peter Firth would not have been her fault.)

My piece of Austen/Regency (okay, not Regency, but Georgian, anyway) synchronicity here: Tom is played by James D’Arcy, who played Blifil in the lovely 1997 Tom Jones.

The third ITV Austen movie will be Persuasion.

Now you may be thinking just what I am: how could anyone improve on the sublime 1995 Roger Michell/Nick Dear version, which starred Amanda Root and Ciaran Hinds?

It was short, but near perfection. And it had an amazing supporting cast: Simon Russell Beale, Fiona Shaw, Sophia Thompson, Sam West — and such camerawork, gorgeous Bath backdrops, a subtle script… And Amanda Root and Ciaran Hinds were both divine.

(Can you tell I liked it?)

This new version is written by Simon Burke, who scripted some Cadfaels and also the 1997 Tom Jones. Our new Anne is Sally Hawkins, whose synchronicity credit came when she played Mary Shelley in the 2003 BBC Byron (starring Jonny Lee Miller).

More synchronicity (okay, this is post-Regency, but I don’t care) comes with Rupert Penry-Jones, who plays Wentworth. In the Ciaran Hinds Jane Eyre, he played St John Rivers. Plus, Alice Krige (who was La Marquesa in Sharpe’s Honour, Mary Godwin in Haunted Summer, and is best known as Star Trek’s Borg Queen) plays Lady Russell.

The piece of casting, though, that many will find hardest to take, is Anthony Stewart Head as Sir Walter. Many who know him as Giles from Buffy the Vampire Slayer are crossing their fingers that they’ll buy him in this very different role. (I hope so — how rotten for an actor to be forever typecast!)

Good news: the earlier rumor that this Persuasion was also to be filmed entirely in Ireland was quite untrue; scenes were filmed in the Bath Assembly Rooms, at #1 Royal Crescent, and at other locations in Bath.

The last of the new adaptations, the Andrew Davies-scripted Sense and Sensibility, has not yet debuted in the UK, so I know little about it.

What I do know: as opposed to the other three new Austen adaptations, all of which aired on ITV and had running times of two hours (including commercials), Sense and Sensibility is a BBC production, and will run three hours (which I think is a good idea!)

It stars Hattie Morahan (pictured above left) as Elinor, and Dominic Cooper (right) as Willoughby. (Those of you who saw History Boys will recognize Cooper as the rakish heart-breaker Dakin.)

So…what do you think? Which Jane Austen adaptation are you most looking forward to? Most worried about?

Do you think I’m being too negative about certain things? Should I have a more open mind? Or are you, too, leery about some of these choices?

What do you think of Austen adaptations in general?

All opinions welcome!

Cara King, author of MY LADY GAMESTER and obsessive Austen-adaptation fan