Jane Austen is the gift that keeps on giving in Hollywood.
Focus Features and Random House Studio have snapped up big-screen rights to Brit writer Jo Baker's novel Longbourne, a new spin on Austen's Pride and Prejudice that will be published in the fall.
The book, which is told from the point of view of the servants at the Bennet family estate, was acquired in a series of preemptive deals that sees Transworld publishing the book in the U.K., Alfred A. Knopf in the U.S. and Random House in Canada.
Translation rights have already been sold in Spain, Italy, Norway, Denmark, Germany, Brazil, France, and Sweden.
Thanks to the popularity of Downton Abbey, the upstairs-downstairs motif couldn't be more timely.
Longbourne will reveal what Jane Austen did not: the constant chaos swirling downstairs, the preparation for lavish balls and the housekeeper’s real thoughts about the family patriarch. But it will also reveal the tragic consequences of the Napoleonic Wars and focus on a romance between a newly arrived footman and a housemaid, the novel's main characters.
"Jane Austen was my first experience of grown-up literature," Baker said. "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."
“Jo Baker fully inhabits the lives of her characters ... who previously existed in the background only," Focus CEO James Schamus said. "By compellingly exploring new avenues in the world of Pride and Prejudice she has fashioned a tale of a caliber that filmmakers dream about."
Focus and Random House Studio will co-finance and produce the film.
Baker's previous novels include Offcomer, The Mermaid's Child, The Telling and The Undertow (titled The Picture Book in the U.K.).
The author is represented by Clare Alexander, U.S. rights were handled by Anna Stein, and film rights were negotiated by Lesley Thorne -- all of Aitken Alexander Associates.