don’t think it’s very helpful or very interesting. You often lose five minutes of screen time because people are very naturally going. “Oh. look at her bum”. rather than seeing what’s happening in the plot.

‘That‘s why a lot of actresses like to do period drama. because you’ve got eight layers of underwear on. I don’t think I’ve got a reputation for being an outrageous prude or anything; ljust think unless it was extremely necessary I wouldn’t [take my clothes off on screen]. I might do it when I’m 50 and covered in stretch marks and then see what people say.’

Emma is a peach of a part for any actress to play and Beckinsale was thrilled to get it. She had already experienced roaring success with the BBC's film of Cold Comfort Farm it made the top ten in the US as a theatrical release - in which she played the practical Flora Poste. Emma is certain to earn her more plaudits.

Beckinsale believes most of the best scripts around are adaptations of great novels. ‘That’s a real shame because we have some very good writers in this country and I don’t think they are being used enough. Whileit’s wonderful to have nostalgia. it’s a little worrying in the absence of

‘Brontii is much darker territory than Austen, and much sexier in a more overt way, more sensual.’

Tara Fitzgerald

anything else. If people carry on seeing period drama as being a safe bet our culture is going to become very impoverished and retrograde. I wish there were an equal amount of successful modern things going on that weren’t just cop shows.’

Beckinsale’s rival for Sunday night audiences is Tara Fitzgerald. who plays Anne Bronte’s mysterious heroine Helen Graham in the BBC’s The Tenant 0f Wildfell Hall —- Emma’s broadcast coincides with the final part of Wildfell Hall.

Fitzgerald. who stars as Ewan McGregor’s conquest in the recently released movie Brassed Off. is adamant Bronte makes for stronger material than Austen. ‘lt’s much darker territory than Austen.’ says Fitzgerald. ‘and much sexier in a more overt way. more sensual. It’s very difficult territory because on one hand you don’t want to move too far away from the book. yet at the same time. you want it to have the same kind of impact as it would originally have had. It’s a bit like with Hardy’s Jude. which was deeply shocking to people at that time.’

A study of women and marriage in l9th century England. The Tenant 0f Wildfell Hall appalled the Victorian establishment and attracted vicious reviews when it was published in 1848. Anne’s sister Charlotte is said to have been so outraged by it that she prevented its re-publication for a decade after Anne’s death in 1849.

‘lt should offend in some ways.’ says Fitzgerald. ‘That’s the intention behind the book. certainly. It’s a very modern topic. an abusive marriage mentally. emotionally and physically abusive.’

As the new tenant of the isolated Wildfell Hall. with only her young son and a servant for company. Fitzgerald’s Helen excites much local interest. particularly from handsome young farmer Gilbert Markham (Toby Stephens), but tongues begin to wag over a regular gentleman caller.


In one of the production’s more disturbing scenes. Fitzgerald’s character is raped. with Rupert Graves as the perpetrator. The sequence lasts about a minute and no bodices are ripped. Fitzgerald. who was fully clothed for the scene. describes it as an odd and uncomfortable. rather than than a traumatic experience she was thrown about a bit and collected some choice bruises. It helped that she got on well with Graves and they were able to laugh about it afterwards. But as rape scenes go. it effectively portrays the violence involved.

‘Helen is a young girl full of ideas and very pious. who falls in love and hopes. as a young girl might. that this marriage will be everything she hopes for.’ says Fitzgerald. ‘lt isn’t . . . it becomes an abusive relationship.’

Costume drama was not something Fitzgerald had yearned to do. but she did have one weakness that attracted her to the BBC production. ‘I love dressing up.’ she admits. ‘and they were beautifully made clothes.’

. . . and Tara Fltzgerald In The tenant of Wlldtell Hall

Despite the frocks. The Tenant 0f Wildfell Hall looks as dark as its subject matter. with bleak Yorkshire Moors landscapes. a band of cheerless characters. a forbidding. dusty old mansion and gloomy pools of candlelight in the interior scenes.

Emma by contrast. is a visual treat, with its magnificent country houses and idyllic rural settings. carriages. horses. armies of servants and damask-covered tables groaning with mouth-watering food. Both productions have fine casts Bernard Hepton. Prunella Scales and Samantha Bond in Emma; Pam Ferris. Kenneth Cranham and Beatie Edney in The Tenant 0f Wildfell Hall.

Whichever production you choose to watch

on Sunday 24 November. that night will surely go down in television history as the Battle of the Bodices. Emma is on Sun 24 Nov at 8pm on Scottish Tl’levision. The Tenant 0f Wildfell Hall begins on Sun I 7 Nov, 8.30pm with episode two on Sun I 7 Nov, 9.40pm and the final episode is on Sun 24 Nov on BBC].

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The List l5-28 Nov l99613