Pride And Prejudice: Having A Ball


Pride And Prejudice: Having A Ball

Friday 10 May at 9pm on BBC 2

Fans of Pride And Prejudice: Having A Ball will likely form two camps – those who crave Jane Austen so much that they are prepared to sit through just about anything with her name on it; and those who enjoy frilly gowns, delectable desserts, ballroom dancing and being repeatedly told by a team of experts that these things are “simply fascinatingâ€?.

The 90-minute film follows social historian Amanda Vickery and company, as they attempt to recreate a Regency ball on the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s beloved novel. Subtext, we’re told, is key to further understanding Austen’s work, and thus much can be learned by discovering how her characters would have behaved, dressed, eaten and danced in the ballroom.

The problem is that 90-minutes of examining these things is enough to make even the most honourable of gentlemen cast aside all social etiquette and hang himself with his own breeches. Thirty minutes would have more than sufficed, and while Amanda and her co presenter, Alastair Sooke, both display endless enthusiasm for the subject matter, it’s hard to stay engaged in what is essentially a feature-length film about cakes and dresses.

The subtext part doesn’t really ring true either, as nothing featured in the documentary really adds to one’s enjoyment of the book. The programme, in fact, is quite a transparent excuse to indulge in the spectacle and splendour that has long made Pride and Prejudice such an adaptable piece for film and television.

For such a beloved book, there seems to be little need to provide 90-minutes of what we’re led to believe is “contextâ€?. Does an insatiable craving for heroin improve William S. Burroughs’ books? Does engaging in explicit gay sex add some much-needed perspective to Alan Ginsberg’s poems?

These things might help, but they’re obviously not essential, which is more or less true of Prejudice: Having A Ball — it seems gratuitous. Certainly, it’s bound to please the diehard Austen fans and lovers of period drama, but alas there’s little here for anyone else.