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BBC Orders Adaptations of ‘War of the Worlds,’ ‘Little Women’ for New Drama Slate

11 new commissions include new series from Stephen Frears and ‘Humans’ creator Joe Barton

The BBC has ordered up 11 new high-end dramas, including new television versions of “The War of the Worlds,” “Little Women,” and “Black Narcissus.” The three titles are the latest classic novel adaptations to be commissioned by BBC Drama, which is currently in production on a new four-part adaptation of E.M. Forster’s “Howard’s End” (pictured) by Oscar-winner Kenneth Lonergan for BBC One and Starz.

Also in the lineup are the first-ever screen adaptation of Vikram Seth’s 1993 novel “A Suitable Boy” and three-part true-story drama “A Very English Scandal,” written by Russell T. Davies and directed by Stephen Frears.

The new slate was unveiled Thursday at an event in London co-hosted by BBC Director General Tony Hall and new controller of BBC Drama Piers Wenger.

“It feels to me a special moment for drama. What really excites me is I think we’ve shaken off all preconceptions about what stories people will come to,” said Hall, adding that the BBC aims to “make drama that says something new and different.”

Setting out his vision for the next five years, Wenger said he wanted BBC Drama to take bigger risks as well as be “a celebration of British authorship, identity and life in all its most diverse forms.”

Wenger said a “strong streak of Britishness” would give BBC Drama productions a “distinctiveness” in the market. “It’s the individuality, chutzpah, determined vision and tireless curiosity at the heart of Britain’s creative community which has played a huge part in turning drama from the U.K. into such a valuable cultural export,” said Wenger.

Rejoining the BBC last year after four years as head of drama at Channel 4, Wenger said it had never been more important for the world’s preeminent public broadcaster to deliver “the unexpected” in order to compete in a crowded global market, suggesting the broadcaster should be less tied to conventions of genre, time slots and channels. “We know that the biggest risks deliver the biggest hits, and in a landscape which is so fast-changing, ideas need to be well ahead of the curve,” he said.

“Victoria” producers Mammoth Screen will bring a new adaptation of H.G. Wells’ sci-fi classic “The War of the Worlds” to BBC One. Adapted by “Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell” writer Peter Harness, the three-part series will mark the first British television adaptation of the novel that Harness called “ground zero for all modern science fiction.” Filming is set to begin early next year.

Following recent hit drama “Apple Tree Yard,” BAFTA-winning writer Amanda Coe will turn her attention to Rumer Godden’s “Black Narcissus,” previously adapted by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger for their iconic 1947 film starring Deborah Kerr. The 1930s-set story of a group of nuns setting up a branch of their order in a remote region of Nepal will be produced by DNA Films for BBC One.

“Call the Midwife” creator Heidi Thomas is set to adapt Louisa May Alcott’s classic “Little Women,” about four sisters on their journey from childhood to adulthood. Production on the three-part series is set to begin in July under the direction of Vanessa Caswill. It will be produced by Colin Callender’s Playground (“Wolf Hall”) with PBS’ Masterpiece for BBC One.

Also on the slate is a new eight-part crime drama for BBC One and Netflix from Joe Barton, creator of hit Channel 4 and AMC show “Humans.” “Giri/Haji” (“Duty/Shame”) will tell the story of a middle-aged Tokyo detective who travels to London in search of his younger brother, who is wanted for murder. Wenger described the crime drama as a “sort of ‘Lost in Translation’ in reverse.” Netflix will stream the show globally outside the U.K.

Other titles for BBC One include “Informer,” a six-part thriller from Sam Mendes and Pippa Harris’ Neal Street Productions; “Come Home,” a three-part drama set in Northern Ireland from writer Danny Brocklehurst and production company RED; and “The Wilsons,” based on the real life of actress Ruth Wilson’s grandmother, which will see Golden Globe winner play her own grandmother in the story which is set between London and India in the mid-20th Century.

Wenger also announced a new six-part semi-autobiographical drama from Stephen Poliakoff for BBC Two, called “Summer of Rockets,” produced by Little Island Productions; and “Overshadowed,” an eight-part short-form series for BBC Three from Rollem Productions.

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