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Can The Miniaturist go from literary gold to sparkling TV this Christmas?

We talk to the stars of BBC One’s dramatisation of Jessie Burton’s 2014 bestseller.



Jessie Burton’s The Miniaturist sold more than a million copies when it came out in 2014. Will the BBC’s Christmas dramatisation be an equally king-sized hit?

Isn’t it strange? You wait for ages for a lavish literary adaptation set in 17th Century Holland, and then two come along at once.

Yet the makers of The Miniaturist will doubtless be hoping the two-part BBC One drama gets a warmer reception than the film version of Tulip Fever suffered this summer.

Released in the US in September, the star-studded film of Deborah Moggach’s 1999 novel was mauled by the critics and currently has a lowly 10% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

It was definitely a case of ruff justice for the much-delayed period piece, which looks set to be one of the last titles to be released by the beleaguered Weinstein Company.

The future looks far brighter for The Miniaturist however. A highlight of BBC One’s Christmas schedule, it promises two sumptuous hours of mystery, intrigue… and miniature furniture.

Image copyright Laurence Cendrowicz Image caption Romola Garai plays Marin opposite Anya Taylor-Joy’s Nella

Based on Jessie Burton’s award-winning novel, it also features a parrot, a dog and tiny figurines of its cast members.

“If you do costume drama, this is as close as you come to having an action figure,” laughs actress Romola Garai.

“We were all very excited to handle our miniatures,” she reveals. “Their arms and legs move and their eyes follow you around the room.”

Set in Amsterdam in 1686, The Miniaturist tells of an 18-year-old woman named Petronella Oortman – played by Anya Taylor-Joy (previously seen in the movie Split) – who is newly married to a wealthy merchant.

Arriving from the countryside with only a parakeet for company, “Nella” is disconcerted by the chilly welcome she gets from her husband’s sister Marin (Garai) and by her new hubby’s lengthy absences.

She’s even more perturbed by the wedding gift she receives from husband Johannes (Alex Hassell): a doll’s house replica of their home that he tasks her to have furnished.

Image copyright The Weinstein Company Image caption Christoph Waltz and Alicia Vikander play husband and wife in Tulip Fever

This leads her to make contact with the miniaturist of the title, an elusive presence who seems to know intimate details of what goes on behind closed doors.

Burton was inspired to write her debut novel by an elaborate doll’s house – the proper name is cabinet – that is on permanent display at Amsterdam’s famous Rijksmuseum.

“I couldn’t take my eyes off it,” says the former actress. “I read that it cost as much as a full-blown town house.”

No expense has been spared either in bringing her book to the screen, in a drama that juxtaposes the austere interiors of Nella’s new home with the high society in which Johannes operates.

“It was wonderful to see the way the light played off all the different textures,” says Hassell of one party scene lit entirely by flickering candles.

“It looks like a painting and very Christmassy,” he continues.

Image caption Author Jessie Burton makes a cameo appearance in one scene

“It was really important to get the contrast between the spare and the opulent,” explains executive producer Kate Sinclair.

(Look closely and you’ll see Burton herself as an extra in this sequence.)

It took more than money, though, to ensure Mr Scraps, the dog cast as Johannes’ pooch Rezeki, played ball on set.

“Mr Scraps was pretty hopeless,” sighs Garai. “He could only do the things he had to do to the sound of a flushing toilet.

“We had to do these very serious takes to the sound of a flushing toilet, on a loop.”

Fortunately there was no such loopiness with Nella’s parakeet, who Garai calls “a real professional”.

“She definitely saw this as her big break and took it very seriously,” the actress quips.

Image copyright Marc Brenner Image caption Garai appeared opposite Emma Cunniffe in the RSC’s Queen Anne

Marin marks another complex role for Garai, who was seen earlier this year as the mother of a serial killer in Channel 4’s Born to Kill.

She was also seen in London’s West End in Queen Anne, which told of the 18th Century monarch’s close relationship with aristocrat Sarah Churchill. (Garai played the Churchill role.)

“You go through many different phases in your career, and in your 30s you start getting character roles,” says the 35-year-old star of Suffragette and The Hour.

“At first you play women whom nothing has happened to, and then you play people who have had a life and have secrets and experiences.

“Normally you have one or two things to play, but with Marin there’s a gamut. She’s very religious yet something of a hypocrite; a force to be reckoned with, yet also deeply afraid.

“There’s a real capacity in this show for people to be different things at different times.”

The Miniaturist will be on BBC One this Christmas on dates yet to be determined. Tulip Fever has yet to have a confirmed UK release date.

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Entertainment & Art

Fossilised eggs shed light on reign of pterosaurs

A collection of 200 eggs gives new insights into the development of the extinct flying reptiles.




The largest clutch of pterosaurs eggs ever discovered suggests that the extinct flying reptiles may have gathered together in vast colonies to lay their eggs.

More than 200 eggs were discovered at one location in China.

Little is known about how the pterosaurs reproduced.

The find suggests that hatchlings were probably incapable of flight when they emerged from the egg, and needed some parental care.

Predator attack

Fossilised pterosaur eggs and embryos are extremely rare. Until now only a handful of eggs have been found, in Argentina and north-western China.

The large collection of eggs suggests pterosaurs may have nested in colonies, where they defended their offspring from predator attack.

Image copyright Zhao Chuang Image caption Reconstruction by Zhao Chuang

Pterosaur experts Xiaolin Wang of the Institute of Vertebrate Palaeontology and Paleoanthropology in Beijing and Alexander Kellner of the National Museum of Brazil in Rio de Janeiro discovered the fossils.

The 215-plus eggs could not have been laid by the same female, said Dr Kellner.

An almost complete skeleton of a hatchling shows that bones related to flight were less developed than bones of the hind limb, indicating that newborns might have been able to walk but not fly.

”That implies some parental help was needed for the hatchlings,” he told BBC News.

‘Crucial advance’

They will continue to search for new fossils, he added, to try to get a more detailed understanding of ”the first vertebrates that conquered the air some 225 million years ago and that went extinct, without leaving any descendants some 66 million years ago”.

Image copyright Alexander Kellner/Museum Nacional/UFRJ Image caption Pterosaur bones were found alongside the eggs Image copyright Alexander Kellner/Museum Nacional/UFRJ Image caption Paleontologists Kellner and Wang in the field

The eggs belong to a pterosaur species known as Hamipterus tianshanensis, which was first discovered in 2005 in the Turpan-Hami Basin of north-western China.

Geological evidence suggests large numbers of the flying reptiles died in a storm in the Early Cretaceous period, about 120 million years ago.

Commenting on the research, Charles Deeming of the University of Lincoln, said it raised many questions, such as how many eggs were laid at a time.

”The work is a crucial advance in understanding pterosaur reproduction,” Dr Deeming said.

”Hopefully additional finds of equally spectacular fossils will help us answer such questions for pterosaurs and allow us to paint an increasingly complete picture of reproduction in these extinct species.”

The research is published in the journal, Science.

Follow Helen on Twitter.

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Entertainment & Art

Celebrity Big Brother: All-female launch ‘to mark 100 years of women’s votes’

The CBB house will be man-free at first, marking the centenary of women getting the vote.




The next series of Celebrity Big Brother is to launch with just female housemates “in a salute to a centenary of women’s suffrage”.

The show will begin in January with only women in the house before male contestants join them.

Channel 5 said it wanted to mark the 100th anniversary of women over 30 being given the vote.

But a descendant of suffragettes Emmeline and Sylvia Pankhurst said they would have laughed at the idea.

Dr Helen Pankhurst, an equality campaigner who is Sylvia’s granddaughter and Emmeline’s great-granddaughter, welcomed the fact the programme would raise awareness.

However she said people needed to realise there are still big problems in the entertainment industry and wider society.

‘Serious message’

“Anything that draws attention the centenary and allows a discussion and gets that message through to different audiences is a great thing,” she told BBC News.

“I’ll be really interested to hear what the audience have to say about it all and to hear the whole discussion it will promote.”

Asked what her grandmother and great-grandmother would make of the plan, Dr Pankhurst said she thought they would laugh, adding: “I really don’t know what they would make of the world we live in.”

Image copyright Getty Images Image caption Sarah Harding won over British voters in the last series

Dr Pankhurst is publishing a book titled Deeds Not Words – named after the suffragettes’ slogan – in February to mark the anniversary.

“The message has to remain that there is a really serious issue behind the power imbalance that still remains,” she said.

“That is why we have a number of troubles, like the whole #MeToo issue, which is rife in the entertainment industry. So I think they would say, ‘fine, but let’s keep on with the messaging.'”

Channel 5 said the show “will initially explore how the all-female housemates interact”.

The male contestants will enter “over the course of the series”, but the broadcaster wouldn’t say how long the house would remain a man-free zone.

Image copyright Getty Images Image caption This will be the 21st UK series of Celebrity Big Brother

They also wouldn’t say how many contestants of each gender will eventually be inside, or whether it will end up with an equal split.

But their announcement said it would show “what happens when women hold the power”.

“The housemates will take part in a series of entertaining tasks and hidden experiments which will test their – and our – assumptions, challenge gender stereotypes and reveal fascinating truths about what it is to be a woman – and man – in the 21st Century,” it said.

Women over 30 gained the right to vote in parliamentary elections in the UK in 1918, following a long campaign by the suffragettes and after the contribution by women to the war effort during World War One was recognised.

The voting age for women was lowered to 21 in 1928, putting them on an equal footing with men.

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Entertainment & Art

Cineworld to buy Regal cinemas in blockbuster deal

The $3.6bn (£2.7bn) takeover will create the second largest cinema chain in the world.




Cineworld has agreed to buy US cinema chain Regal in a $3.6bn (£2.7bn) deal that will create the world’s second largest cinema group.

The new cinema giant will operate in 10 countries, and have 9,500 screens across the US and Europe.

The deal gives Cineworld access to North America, which has the largest box office market in the world.

Cineworld currently has more than 2,000 screens across 221 sites and also owns the Picturehouse Cinemas chain.

Are we falling out of love with the cinema?

Who’s in line for the Oscars?

The deal is a big bet on the cinema sector, which is under threat from streaming sites such as Netflix, Amazon Prime and iTunes which allow viewers to watch films at home.

In the US this summer’s takings at the box office were at their lowest level for more than two decades.

But annual takings have been more than $11bn for the last two years.

And in the UK, cinema attendance is up around 8% so far this year with around 165 million tickets sold each year.

Image copyright Getty Images Image caption The 1946 film Notorious was released in an era of record cinema attendance

The numbers are still a far cry from UK cinema-going’s peak after World War Two which saw a record 1.63 billion cinema admissions in 1946.

Cineworld chief executive Mooky Greidinger said he expected to bring Regal’s profit margins to nearer Cineworld.

Currently Cineworld has a 22% margin, while Regal has just short of a 20% profit margin.

Its main rival is AMC , which is majority owned by China’s Dalian Wanda Group.

This year, Cineworld’s audiences have been boosted by blockbusters Dunkirk and Despicable Me 3, with recent big releases including Paddington 2 and Justice League.

Mr Greidinger said: “Regal is a great business and provides Cineworld with the optimal platform on which we can continue our growth strategy.”

News of the deal saw shares in Cineworld drop 2.5% by midday.

Last week, the cinema chain’s shares plunged 20% when it revealed it was in takeover talks with Regal.

Cineworld has agreed to pay $23 a share for Regal, and is funding the deal mainly by asking investors to stump up £1.7bn by buying new shares through a procedure known as a rights issue. Issuing new shares typically depresses the price of existing shares.

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