BBC1 unveils dramatic winter schedule


LONDON -- An adaptation of the best-selling novel series "The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency," from Anthony Minghella and Richard Curtis, will serve as the showpiece of pubcaster BBC1's new winter schedule, acting channel controller Roly Keating said Tuesday.

Based on the best-selling novel series by Alexander McCall Smith, "Detective Agency" chronicles the adventures of Precious Ramotswe, the proprietor of the only female-owned detective agency in Botswana. It will star singer-actress Jill Scott as Precious and will be directed and written by Anthony Minghella and co-written by Richard Curtis.

"Filmed entirely on location in Botswana, it's an entertaining and optimistic story, offering a very different insight to Africa than we are used to seeing in the news," said Keating, who described the film as an "epic treat."

In another schedule highlight, "The Passion" will tell the story of Jesus Christ from three points of view and run over the course of a week, just before Easter. The project will be penned by Emmy winner Frank Deasy ("Prime Suspect 7") and developed by Nigel Stafford-Clark ("Bleak House)." It will star Joseph Mawle as Jesus and James Nesbitt as Pontius Pilate.

Set in the political and religious context of the time, "Passion" revolves around the events that took place in Jerusalem during Passover week and tells the story from the perspectives of the religious authorities, the Romans and Jesus himself.

Other highlights include the final chapter of his epic natural history overview of life on Earth, in which David Attenborough turns to the reptile world for "Life in Cold Blood." The series uses the latest filming technology from the BBC's world-renowned natural history unit to reveal the intimate lives of cold-blooded reptiles and amphibians, including previously unseen footage of rattlesnakes hunting, anacondas giving birth underwater, a mother caiman leading her creche of babies to safety and semaphoring Panamanian golden frogs.

Building on the success of this fall's hit costume drama "Cranford," BBC1 will offer dramatizations of two classics: Jane Austen's "Sense and Sensibility" and Flora Thompson's "Lark Rise to Candleford."

David Morrissey, Janet McTeer and Mark Gatiss will head the cast of the Andrew Davies-scripted three-part adaptation of the Austen novel, which revolves around two young sisters on a voyage of burgeoning romantic and social discovery.

Julia Sawalha, Dawn French and Ben Miles will star in the new adaptation of Thompson's memoir of her Oxfordshire childhood at the end of the 19th century.

Contemporary drama highlights include "Ashes to Ashes," the next chapter in the life of Gene Hunt -- the brash detective from '70s cop drama "Life on Mars" -- who is about to meet his match in the form of Detective Inspector Alex Drake of London's Metropolitan Police.

BBC1's Christmas Day highlights will include a one-off episode of "Doctor Who," a "Strictly Come Dancing" special and airings of animated hits "Finding Nemo" and "Shrek 2."