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Life on Mars spin-off and Minghella film head BBC One schedule

LONDON - 'Ashes To Ashes', the follow-up to 1970s time travel police drama, 'Life on Mars', is one of the highlights of BBC One's winter schedule, which also features James Nesbitt as Pontius Pilate and a screen version of bestselling novel 'The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency' directed by Anthony Minghella.

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The sequel to 'Life on Mars' brings the return of macho, politically incorrect inspector Gene Hunt, but the 1970s are a long way gone. It is now 1981, and Hunt has been transferred from Manchester to London eight years after we last saw him.

Hunt, played by Philip Glenister, is again paired with a time-travelling colleague, but instead of Sam, who was played by John Simm, the series will introduce a female detective inspector thrown back from 2008.

Alex Drake, played by Keeley Hawes, the former star of 'Spooks', is a single mother who suddenly finds herself 27 years out of time surrounded by speedboats, City dealers, guns, brothels, well-dressed criminals and New Romantics.

The channel's headline offering is 'The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency', a feature-length adaptation of the best-selling novel by Alexander McCall Smith about the adventures of Precious Ramotswe, the proprietor of the only female-owned detective agency in Botswana.

The involvement of two big names from the cinema world, producer and director Antony Minghella and co-writer Richard Curtis, together with the casting of singer Jill Scott as Precious, should make the task of publicising the programme straightforward.

Also set to grab headlines in the run-up to Easter is 'The Passion', a week-long dramatisation of the week leading the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, played by 'Soundproof''s Joseph Mawle opposite James Nesbitt as Pontius Pilate.

'The Passion' will show the events in Jerusalem unfolding from the different points of view of Jesus, the Romans and the religious authorities.

Among its traditional costume drama fare, the channel has picked Jane Austen's 'Sense and Sensibility', written by Andrew Davies in three parts and starring David Morrissey, Janet McTeer and Mark Gatiss.

Julia Sawalha and Dawn French will also break out the bodices for 'Lark Rise to Candleford', Flora Thompson's memoir of her Oxfordshire childhood at the end of the 19th century.

Grittier drama will be provided by 'The Last Enemy', a thriller starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Robert Carlyle. Written by Peter Berry, of 'Prime Suspect 6' fame, it tells the story of a man whose search for the truth about his brother's death catapults him into an international conspiracy.

The channel is hoping to continue the success of its 'Planet Earth' franchise with 'Life in Cold Blood'. This time the focus of Sir David Attenborough's curiosity will be reptiles and amphibians including rattlesnakes hunting and Panamanian Golden frogs "semaphoring".

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