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Thursday 20 June 2019

Fun with Dickens and Jane? No thanks

With the dark evenings closing in, it's time to embrace autumn/winter by cranking up the heating and easing into semi-hibernation. In the spirit of being a wool-clad hermit, I'm considering joining a new online bookclub, but one with a twist.

Rather than just ploughing through Richard & Judy-sanctioned newbies, this club will be tackling the Classics.

The thoughts of wading through Dickens or Jane Austen isn't everyone's cup of splosh, but there's something about curling up on the couch with a blanket, your body weight in biccies and a dusty old classic. Classics are an antidote to the modern, samey books factor -- and I'm an old-fashioned gal.

If I wasn't a bookworm, I could just plonk myself in front of the telly for the winter. You can't move for the quivering bosoms and repressed emotion of period dramas in the TV schedules. And here's the rub. There's a certain way to do period drama and it's not hard to get it right.

There should be oodles of fabric -- from rustling dresses to chintz-covered chaise longues -- lots of brooding, scowling unattainable men and gorgeous stately homes that look wonderful but were probably bloody freezing back in the day. But then there's also the darker underclass side of things, like the BBC's new Tess of the D'Urbervilles which started on Sunday night. Forget carriages and ballgowns, this is gritty gutter stuff, but then no one can hold a candle to the Beeb when it comes to the genre. From Cranford to Sense & Sensibility, their adaptations are lavish, brilliantly cast and usually the perfect mix of tragic-comedy.

Which is more than can be said for ITV's Lost in Austen, which finishes next week. Maybe we should applaud a new spin on Austen (this one is a bit like an 19th-century version of Life on Mars with a worse script, and sadly no John Simm to ogle). But, like the sparkly pink covers trotted out in an effort to chicklit-ise Austen, the whole thing comes off as dumbed-down and shoddy.

Given how good (and funny) the source material is, it's a real shame Lost in Austen has to resort to gags about bikini waxing. Never mind that time-travelling Amanda shows up at the Bennett household in a biker's jacket. The opening credits are straight out of Desperate Housewives and there's a Bridget Jones-style voiceover. Why do we need to drag these things kicking and screaming into the 21st century?

ITV may well redeem themselves with their imminent Wuthering Heights adaptation, but I'll be sticking with Tess and the upcoming Little Dorrit on BBC.

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