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Pride and Prejudice: Having a Ball

Pride and Prejudice: Having a Ball

Fri May 10, 9-10.30pm, BBC2

By Phil Harrison
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Jane Austen was quite the futurist in her way. Her books tell of individuals chafing against the social, cultural and gender boundaries of their time. But for a long time, thanks to the endless attentions of filmmakers and TV commissioners, she’s been a cipher for the past. Surely she’d hate it?

This lengthy documentary seeks to rescue ‘Pride and Prejudice’ from the ‘deadening’ effects of passed time. Sadly, it achieves the opposite effect. Amanda Vickery and Alastair Sooke are recreating – in extreme, almost pedantic detail – the Netherfield Ball from ‘Pride and Prejudice’. The food. The dance steps. The pain-in-the-arse clothes. Everything. It’s around the moment we hear the phrase ‘look at the quality of these buttons’ that we wonder if they mightn’t have got slightly carried away.

What does this strange enterprise tell us of Austen? Mainly, that she belongs to a period in history that remains a TV ratings winner. But it tells us more about ourselves. It suggests that while the past might be a foreign country, that doesn’t mean we don’t want to spend an unhealthy amount of our time there.
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