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English director adapts his story

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NEW YORK -- Julian Jarrold is a sucker for punishment.

There's no other explanation for the English director's choice of projects.

His first feature film, 2005's "Kinky Boots," was about a Northampton shoemaker who attempts to save the family business by starting a line of fetish footwear.

He's currently filming "Brideshead Revisited," an adaptation of the much-loved novel by Evelyn Waugh, which has already been made into a much-loved British miniseries.

His second feature, "Becoming Jane," which opened in U.S. theaters recently, marks the first time the most beloved English author after Shakespeare is portrayed on-screen. For this first, Mr. Jarrold has chosen to tell a mostly fictionalized tale that turns Jane Austen the spinster into the heroine of the kind of love story she is famous for writing.

The 47-year-old director admits he was nervous about how his film would be received.

"Jane Austen fans were the most cautious before the film came out but generally have been the most positive," he reports.

Mr. Jarrold marvels at the author's continuing popularity. "I think every generation discovers her anew and finds different things in her," he says. "Obviously it's the romance that's the big draw, but it's the sort of clearsighted portrayal of that romance with all its flaws and disappointments and unromanticized wit, caustic wit, actually, that makes them constantly live again for people. Certainly so many movies, even modern movies, 'Bridget Jones' and all the rest, have used it."

Mr. Jarrold has certainly rethought the author. While most critics see the film's love interest, Irish law student Tom Lefroy, as a precursor of the favorite Austen hero, Mr. Darcy, the character actually has much more in common with those Austen cads Wickham and Willoughby.

"That's one of the things that Jane Austen was fascinated by," Mr. Jarrold says. "In all the novels, there's this roguish dark stranger who's sexy and attractive and not to be relied upon." The film is, in part, an answer to the question of where this recurring cad comes from.

But it's not just rumors about Mr. Jarrold's interpretation of the author that had many critics getting the knives out before the film had even opened. The director chose an American actress, Anne Hathaway, to portray this most British of authors. The young star of "The Devil Wears Prada" may not be British, but she was a perfect fit for the role, he believes.

"We needed someone 21 or 22. There's not many people with the maturity and the charisma and who've got that energy that Annie brings to it," the director says. "There's not many other Americans who could have done it, either."

He adds, "When I met her, she put my knowledge of Austen to shame."

Miss Hathaway was just as nervous about appearing in the film as Mr. Jarrold was making it.

"The terror was incalculable. The pressure was intense throughout the filming," she admitted at a press roundtable last month. "But I really held fast to what had drawn me into the project in this first place, which was what an amazing chance to take this woman who was only ever seen as an icon and try to make her real."

The well-spoken actress, just 24, first read Austen when she was 14. "Her books became my friends," she says. "It was wonderful to be playing an artist discovering her own artistic process because I'm very much at an age when I'm discovering mine."

(She prefers, though, a book she read at 23. "My favorite book in the world is "Atlas Shrugged" by Ayn Rand," she says. "I think she's pretty genius.")

Working on "Becoming Jane" and the upcoming "Get Smart," Miss Hathaway came to a simple but sensible conclusion about working on films based on cherished source material: "You're never going to make everyone happy."

It's clearly something that's on Mr. Jarrold's mind, too. He's in the middle of filming "Brideshead Revisited," with "Match Point's" Matthew Goode taking over Jeremy Irons' role as the artist who gets entangled with an aristocratic family.

"It is very daunting," he says of the "burden" of remaking a popular property. "You've got to deliver a film that stands on its own feet, that doesn't seem like a poor second cousin."

Mr. Jarrold is getting very high-profile projects for a director just embarking on a film career. Until now, he's been best known in Britain as the director of such acclaimed television films as another literary adaptation, 2002's "White Teeth," based on Zadie Smith's novel of the same name.

But whether it's that he wants to branch out or is a little exhausted with the burdens, don't look for him to do another adaptation soon.

Laughing, he says, "I want to do something completely different next, something that nobody's ever heard of, something contemporary."

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