A new version of "Pride and Prejudice" focuses not on aloof Mr. Darcy or feisty Elizabeth Bennet, but a woman who washes the cutlery and darns the hosiery.
Focus Features has already acquired the film rights to "Longbourn," a fresh spin on Jane Austen's masterpiece (also known as the classic novel for people who hate classic novels). It will be published this fall in U.K. by Transworld and in the U.S. by Alfred A. Knopf.
The story is written by Jo Baker and revolves around the Bennet family's housekeeper. Focus Features said Thursday that it acquired the film rights in conjunction with Random House Studio. Random House snagged Canadian publishing rights.
The romance of manners has made its way to the big screen many times before, most recently in a 2005 version starring Keira Knightley. It also inspired a much beloved 1995 mini-series starring a pre-fame Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy.
According to a description provided by Focus, the book will be set against the backdrop of the Napoleonic Wars and will focus on a romance between a new footman and a housemaid. Darcy and Liz will apparently be peripheral figures.
On the scale of radical overhauls, it pales in comparison to Seth Grahame-Smith's "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies," the 2009 parody that threw the undead into the mix. A film version of that has been in the works for years at Lionsgate, but has struggled to line up the right director and script.
"Jane Austen was my first experience of grown-up literature," Baker said in a statement. "But as I read and re-read her books, I began to become aware that if I'd been living at the time, I wouldn't have got to go to the ball; I would have been stuck at home with the sewing. Just a few generations back, my family were in service. Aware of that English class thing, Pride and Prejudice begins to read a little differently.”
Baker's previous novels include "Offcomer," "The Mermaid's Child," "The Telling," and "The Undertow."
The author is represented by Clare Alexander; U.S. rights were handled by Anna Stein and film rights by Lesley Thorne, all of Aitken Alexander Associates.