A WEEK IN BOOKS

With all middle England on tenterhooks awaiting tomorrow's first episode of the BBC's Pride and Prejudice, everybody is asking why we have become such Austen addicts. Hype for the series itself is threatening to be overwhelmed by a kind of meta-hype: we're as interested in watching ourselves watching Jane Austen as we are in Jane Austen herself.

We've had Nigel Dempster crowing with English superiority over the American TV executive who asked how well Jane's books were selling and whether she'd be available for interview. Roy Hattersley has been a fly on the wall at a preview screening, monitoring the reactions of a group of "academic ladies" to what he worryingly calls the "erection scene" (though what this scene actually consists of, and whether it even exists, is still a matter for debate).

Confident that we're as interested in the background stuff as we are in the series, the BBC has brought out a book, The Making of Pride and Prejudice (Penguin, pounds 8.99) which includes interviews with the production team and cast (Alison Steadman tells us how getting the part of Mrs Bennet was "like being given a huge box of chocolates"; Lucy Briers, who has the unenviable task of personifying the plain, sententious sister, Mary, explains how she drove her fiance mad with piano practice), and gives us a foretaste of what it's all going to look and sound like.

Locations, clothes, hair and food have been researched with tireless historical accuracy before being recreated in three dimensions. The book offers a sumptuous array of stills from the film: Lizzie at the Netherfield ball, Darcy on horseback, the Bennets having dinner. Yet for all that the production strives for authenticity, the picture which struck me as the most genuine was a shot of six of the actresses off-duty, sitting in costume in a line against the wall, waiting to go on set. They are all reading, apart from one who has a piece of embroidery, and they have a relaxed, absorbed air about them which is utterly enchanting and makes you feel you are eavesdropping on a real moment from a flesh-and-blood past. Their line-abreast formality, coupled with their air of unselfconscious ease, seems perfectly to mirror the mixture of formalism and elasticity in Austen's prose, and of the combination of honesty and restraint that informs her moral vision.

If only, you think, acting could be this naturalistic. Austen writes with such delicious facility that, reading her, one's hardly aware of reading. Austen on screen should be just as free from staginess.

This, of course, is just a dream. No amount of elaborate artifice, no number of historically accurate candle-snuffers and coiffures, can give the illusion of such unselfconsciousness. Yet there are ways and ways of playing Austen. Alison Steadman felt that acting Mrs Bennet was like a box of chocolates. Let's hope that the series manages to avoid the theme- park nostalgia of the Quality Street tin, and does justice to the complexities of Austen's characters.

Lucasta Miller

Arts and Entertainment
Wonder.land Musical by Damon Albarn

Theatre

Arts and Entertainment

Film review

Arts and Entertainment
Innocent victim: Oli, a 13-year-old from Cornwall, featured in ‘Kids in Crisis?’
TV review
News
Northern exposure: social housing in Edinburgh, where Hassiba now works in a takeaway
books An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop
Arts and Entertainment
Terminator Genisys: Arnie remains doggedly true to his word as the man who said 'I'll be back', returning once more to protect Sarah Connor in a new instalment

 

film review
Arts and Entertainment

festivals
Arts and Entertainment

Final Top Gear review

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Carl Barat perform at Glastonbury 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Richie performs live on the Pyramid stage during the third day of Glastonbury Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

    Is this the future of flying?

    Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
    Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

    Isis are barbarians

    but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
    The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

    Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

    Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
    Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

    'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

    Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
    Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

    Call of the wild

    How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
    Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

    'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

    If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
    The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

    The science of swearing

    What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
    Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

    Africa on the menu

    Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
    Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

    Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

    The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
    10 best statement lightbulbs

    10 best statement lightbulbs

    Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
    Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

    Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

    Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
    Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

    Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

    It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
    Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

    Dustin Brown

    Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
    Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

    Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

    Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test