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  • Writer's pictureDeborah Yaffe


I haven’t set foot in a movie theater in five months. (March 7. Multiplex up the road from here. The new adaptation of Emma, a pretty good way to go out.) This is certainly the longest cinematic drought in my adult life. Television is all well and good, but I crave the big screen like a desert wanderer craves an oasis.

Perhaps that’s why I perked up so unreasonably at the tiny scrap of Jane Austen news thrown our way last month when the UK film magazine Screen Daily published an interview with a British director/playwright/screenwriter named Jessica Swale. Most of the story was about Swale’s newly released film Summerland and her life under pandemic lockdown.

But tucked into the introductory paragraphs, never to be discussed again, was this factoid: “She is also working on a feature version of Jo Baker’s novel Longbourn for Studiocanal and Jane Austen’s Persuasion for Fox Searchlight.”

What? The desert traveler glimpses the oasis! Is it for real. . . or just another mirage?

Longbourn, you will recall, was a much-praised 2013 novel that told the story of Pride and Prejudice from the point of view of the Bennet family’s servants. Movie talk was in the air almost from the get-go, and the projected film has had a skeletal IMDB listing since 2017, but the project has never progressed much further. Unless perhaps it has! Please tell us more!

And what’s all this about a new version of Jane Austen’s Persuasion? We already know about the forthcoming update, Modern Persuasion, which transplants the story to contemporary (presumably pre-pandemic) New York, but this sounds like a new adaptation of the original. Squee!

No doubt you will point out that if the screenwriter is still at work, neither of these films is likely to appear for at least a couple of years, by which time going to the movies will (please, God!) once again seem like a routine pastime, rather than a distant, shimmering, Emerald City-type fantasy. Meanwhile, however, I’m going to enjoy imagining that I’ve arrived at the oasis.

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