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BBC Byron site


When the famously hedonistic Byron and Shelley were staying at Lake Geneva in the early 19th century, the proprietor of an inn across the water hatched a canny money-making scheme. He rented out pairs of binoculars, so that voyeuristic guests could spy on the poets' racy activities on the other side of the lake. Some things never change.

Jonny Lee Miller, who plays Byron in a new BBC2 biopic scripted by Nick Dear, reckons that the pleasure-seeking poet had a lot in common with today's paparazzi-magnetising superstars. We are in the grounds of Wrotham Park in Hertfordshire, the sort of exquisitely photogenic English stately home that is always scene-stealing in impossibly tasteful period dramas. Relaxing in his caravan between scenes, Lee Miller is wearing his hair in elegant curls in preparation for the dreaded floppy wig without which no BBC costume drama would be complete. So to which contemporary figures would the actor liken Byron, a man who provoked hysteria merely by walking into a room?

Lee Miller, who used to be married to Hollywood star Angelina Jolie and has had the odd brush with fame himself, breaks into a slow smile before saying, "I'd hate to draw comparisons with Posh and Becks, but that kind of frenzy was going on with Byron. It spread across Europe like wild-fire. People everywhere would say, 'Oooh, that Byron, he's a bit of a one.' People's interest in fame has been the same since year dot. It's interesting that the term 'Byron-mania' was coined back then. That shows that there's always been this mania for celebs. We're arrogant if we think that we invented that obsession. Celebrities have always been adored and vilified. Byron's story - incest, sodomy, divorce - would have been bingo for the tabloids in any age."

There was certainly a "you couldn't make it up" quality about Byron's life. Forever searching for fresh stimuli, he lived by the code, "Sensation is our only proof that we exist - that is why we crave it."

"People don't see costume drama as being sexy or funny - and this is both," Lee Miller asserts. "That's down to the character of Byron. He's sometimes portrayed as this dark, Gothic madman, but there was much more to Byron than that. Just look at the breadth of his writing. He had this tremendous energy and passion, as well as being incredibly broad-minded. He possessed this immense lust for life. He's the perfect subject for drama because of his colourful life. When he died at the age of 36, the doctors autopsied his body and said that he had the internal organs of a 75-year-old. Respect to the man," Lee Miller says, an amused grin playing across his face. "He really knew how to live life to the full!"

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Jonny Lee Miller is joined by Vanessa Redgrave to star in Byron, a drama about the greatest romantic poet of his age for BBC TWO

"Sensation is our only proof that we exist - that is why we crave it."

Jonny Lee Miller stars as the charismatic, hedonistic and wildly rebellious Lord Byron in a major two-part drama for BBC TWO about the poet's life and loves which is now in production.

Natasha Little plays his half-sister Augusta, with whom he had an incestuous affair; Camilla Power is Lady Caroline Lamb; Julie Cox is his wife Annabella.

And following her recent and acclaimed performance as Clemmie Churchill in BBC TWO's The Gathering Storm, Vanessa Redgrave is to play Lady Melbourne, Byron's confidante.

"This film offers a bravura role for Jonny Lee Miller," says Jane Tranter, BBC Controller of Drama Commissioning.

"Byron will explore what it meant to be a sex-god aristo and aims to take a muscular approach to period drama.

"While focussing on Byron's energy and his desire to turn convention upside down, it will emphasise such contemporary themes as the cult of celebrity, media manipulation and the bad boy image of an outsider who wins - but despises - society's praise.

"It is a radical, anti-establishment historical drama."

Stephen Campbell Moore - who stars in Bright Young Things, Stephen Fry's adaptation of Evelyn Waugh's Vile Bodies - is Byron's friend John Cam Hobhouse; Philip Glenister is his manservant William Fletcher; and Oliver Milburn plays his Cambridge friend Scrope Davies.

Byron is a co-venture between the BBC's Drama and Arts departments.

It is written by Nick Dear, after exhaustive research, whose credits include the award-winning adaptation of Jane Austen's Persuasion, and is directed by Julian Farino (Flesh and Blood, Our Mutual Friend, Bob and Rose).

Ruth Baumgarten is the producer and the executive producers are BBC Head of Drama Serials Laura Mackie, Hilary Salmon and Andrea Miller, Head of Factual Television, BBC Scotland.

Byron charts the rise and fall of an irresistible and devastatingly handsome genius who had it all and threw it all away.

Byron's struggle to be accepted as a poet is dramatically reversed by the publication of Childe Harolde's Pilgrimage, which turns him into an overnight success and the toast of London society.

Women throw themselves at him, but despite a passionate affair with society beauty Lady Caroline Lamb (Camilla Power) he soon tires of her and escapes into the arms of his half-sister Augusta (Natasha Little), with whom he has an illicit, incestuous affair.

Although unconcerned by society's conventions, Byron worries that a scandal will harm Augusta and on a whim proposes to the pious Annabella Millbanke (Julie Cox).

It's a love triangle that is doomed to failure. Annabella soon learns that marriage to the greatest romantic poet of his age is one of heartbreak and betrayal.

Augusta, for her part, will not let her physical relationship with Byron continue once he is married.

Byron goes into self-imposed exile, and continues his life of hedonistic pleasure in Venice - before settling into a relationship with Italian aristocrat Contessa Teresa Guicciolli (played by Branca Katic).

Eventually, as a man who has excelled in excess, he feels his passion is spent and takes up the Greek struggle for independence from the Turks.

Jonny Lee Miller is best known for his portrayal of Sick Boy in Trainspotting and his recent successes include the roles of Edmund Bertram in Mansfield Park and Macleane in Plunkett and Macleane.

Natasha Little first came to attention as the scheming Rachel in This Life, and consolidated her talents as Becky Sharp in Vanity Fair.

Recently highlighted in Vogue as one of the UK's leading actresses, Natasha is soon to be seen in the hit BBC ONE drama series Spooks.

Camilla Power (Lady Caroline Lamb) played Becky Lawton in Sally Wainwright's Sparkhouse for BBC ONE.

Julie Cox takes on her first romantic lead as Annabella following roles in Dune, The Scarlet Pimpernel and The War Bride.

Byron begins shooting in February at locations in Somerset, Malta and Luxembourg.

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Byron heads BBC drama schedule

Dramas portraying the lives of Lord Byron and King Charles II will lead a slate of historical plays coming up on BBC TV.
Jonny Lee Miller - a star of the movie Trainspotting - is set to play the poet Byron, the ultimate rebel whose overnight success brought him instant celebrity status.

Miller will explore Byron's wildly excessive lifestyle and how he became such a radical icon.

The two-parter on BBC Two is written by Nick Dear, whose credits include the award-winning adaptation of Jane Austen's Persuasion.

Miller is set to play the excessive Lord Byron

It will be directed by Julian Farino (Flesh And Blood, Our Mutual Friend, Bob And Rose).

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