BBC1 to remake period drama Howards End and mystery The Woman in White

BBC Drama commissioner Polly Hill has also announced new shows from Doctor Foster's Mike Bartlett, Banished's Jimmy McGovern and The Honourable Woman's Hugo Blick

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The BBC has announced a raft of new drama commissions for the new year, including a mini-series based on EM Forster’s Howards End and a remake of Wilkie Collins mystery The Woman in White.  

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The well-loved Howards End, about social mores in turn-of-the-century England, was made into a Merchant Ivory film starring Emma Thompson, Vanessa Redgrave, Helena Bonham Carter and Anthony Hopkins in the early 1990s and adapted for the BBC once before in 1970. This new four-part mini series will be penned by Gangs of New York screenwriter Kenneth Lonergan. 

“I’m very proud to have been entrusted with this adaptation of Howards End for the BBC,” said Lonergan. “The book belongs to millions of readers past and present; I only have the nerve to take it on at all because of the bottomless wealth and availability of its ideas, the richness of its characters and the imperishable strain of humanity running through every scene.” 

Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White, often referred to as one of the first ever mystery novels, has already graced the BBC twice in 1966 and 1997 and will also become a new four-part mini series for the broadcaster. Origin Pictures will take on the gothic novel with BBC Northern Ireland. 

“We are so excited to be bringing a bold new version of Wilkie Collins’ beloved Gothic classic to the screen,” said executive producers David Thompson and Ed Rubin. “His gift for gripping, atmospheric storytelling is as thrilling for contemporary readers as it was for Victorians, and [this] unique take really brings out the intense psychological drama that has captivated so many over the years,” 

Other new drama commissions include Press, a six-parter set in the world of newspaper journalism and written by Doctor Foster’s Mike Bartlett, who called it “a behind-the-scenes story about a group of diverse and troubled people who shape the stories and headlines we read every day.” 

BBC1 also welcomes another drama from Banished’s Jimmy McGovern, entitled Broken. “We are both proud and privileged to be producing this new six-part primetime drama series for the BBC written by Jimmy McGovern from our home city of Liverpool,” said McGovern and Colin McKeown from LA Productions. “The BBC is also the rightful home for this State of the Nation Piece. It plots the perspective of a local catholic priest Father Michael Kerrigan and that of his congregation and their struggle with both Catholicism and contemporary Britain.”

Controller of BBC Drama Polly Hill additionally announced The Replacement, a three-part “chilling mini-series [which] examines the darker side of working women, motherhood and the issues that arise from making ‘the right choice,'” and six-part Requiem, written and created by The Slap’s Kris Mrksa. 

“Requiem is part psychological thriller – the story of a young woman, who, in the wake of her mother’s death, sets out to learn the truth about herself, even to the point of unravelling her own identity. But it is also a subtle tale of the supernatural that avoids giving easy answers, playing instead on uncertainty, mystery and ambiguity,” revealed a BBC spokesperson. 

Over on BBC2, Hugo Blick (The Honourable Woman, The Shadow Line) returns with Black Earth Rising, a “long form thriller which, through the prism of a black Anglo-American family, examines the West’s relationship with contemporary Africa by exploring issues of justice, guilt, and self-determination,” while theatre director Conor McPherson is set to deliver his first original television series. Paula (working title) is a “twist on a crime and relationship drama, where a man and a woman get locked into a battle driven by vengeance.”

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“I’m proud to announce this range of over 35 hours of new drama and to continue the BBC’s commitment to backing original, ambitious drama,” said Polly Hill of the new commissions. “Over the next year, I will continue to reinvent and broaden the range of drama on the BBC and it is because we make great drama for everyone that we can offer audiences and the creative community something unique and distinct.”