Book centers on servants in 'Pride and Prejudice'

Random House Studios and Focus Features have acquired feature film rights to Jo Baker’s new novel “Longbourn,” based on the servant characters in Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice.”

Under the deal, Random House Studios and Focus will co-finance and produce the adaptation.

Named after the Bennet family estate, the book tells downstairs story of “Pride and Prejudice.”

Rights to Baker’s novel were acquired in a series of pre-emptive deals. The book will be published this fall by Transworld in the U.K.; Alfred A. Knopf in the U.S.; and Random House in Canada; translation rights have been sold in Spain, Italy, Norway, Denmark, Germany, Brazil, France and Sweden.

“Longbourn” will 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.”

Focus Features CEO James Schamus said, “Jo Baker fully inhabits the lives of her characters – - and in ‘Longbourn,’ they are ones who previously existed in the background only. By compellingly exploring new avenues in the world of ‘Pride and Prejudice’ she has fashioned a tale of a caliber that filmmakers dream about.”

Random House Studio president Peter Gethers said, “This is one of the most exciting projects that has come along since we began our partnership with Focus. It’s rare to see a wonderful novel that screams out to us – - in a genteel, Austen-like way, of course – - that it needs to be made into an equally wonderful film.”

Baker’s previous novels include “Offcomer,” “The Mermaid’s Child,” “The Telling” and “The Undertow.”

She is represented by Clare Alexander. U.S. rights were handled by Anna Stein and film rights by Lesley Thorne, all of Aitken Alexander Associates.

Focus and Random House launched their feature film partnership in 2005. The alliance has yielded a pair of pics — “Reservation Road” in 2007 and “One Day,” starring Anne Hathaway, in 2011.

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