The joy began from the opening shot, Mr Bingley galloping across the countryside with Darcy in tow and spotting Netherfield peeping through the woodland. "It is nothing to Pembury," he says as the pair of them take in the imposing vastness of the house before them. "But one must settle somewhere." In the past you may not have remembered anyone galloping around in Jane Austen television adaptations. Generally (Nick Dear's brilliant recent Persuasion apart) they were static, dull, crusty affairs, more interested in the costume than the drama. If you'd never read one of her books, you'd think it was no wonder Jane took sick: it must have been a lot more interesting being in bed than hanging around in that environment.
Andrew Davies's take on Pride and Prejudice has changed all that, injecting into the proceedings a pace and energy which at last provides a visual setting to do justice to the wit of the book. With everyone slinging themselves about at high speed (the dances, in a first for the genre, actually involve a bit of sweat), it looks like people are doing something you would never have suspected they did in Austen's time: having fun.
And, since they are having fun, you can see how funny it all was. When Mr Bennet, for instance, announces at the lunch-table, "Our lives hold few distinctions, Mrs Bennet, but I think we can safely assert here sit two of the silliest girls in the country," you laugh out loud - because his two daughters, instead of sitting there like porcelain figures, have already established their silly credentials by endless horsing around.
Everywhere you looked in this production there were such pleasures: Alison Steadman on Abigail's Party levels of insufferability as Mrs Bennet; Benjamin Withrow with a fist of Oscar Wilde put-downs as her husband; Anna Chancellor sneering at everyone as Miss Bingley. And Mr Collins and Lady Catherine de Bourgh have yet to make an appearance. What bliss in store.
These days there is slightly less involved in courtship than hours spent gazing across parlours, reading and re-reading signals like love Kremlinologists. According to Loved Up (BBC2, Saturday), all you do now is slip her an E and get nodding. Despite the film's hitherto unexplored dramatic territory (raving), this was a conventional story about young men failing to face up to reality and emotional responsibility. Sarah (Lena Headley), seeking escape from her ghastly home life, sought refuge in the arms of Tom (Ian Hart), a lad who seems to agree so whole-heartedly with Sir William Lucas's observation in Pride and Prejudice - "dancing, what a charming amusement for young people" - that he spends every night down the rave.
I'm not sure if we were meant to, but as the plot unfolded, I found myself sympathising not with the problem-laden, reality-facing Sarah, but with the perpetually out-of-it Tom. There was something heroic about his philosophy of rigorously avoiding the troughs of life and aiming for an existence of continual peaks, an update of Spinal Tap's Viv Savage, and his "have a good time all the time" theory of life.
Besides, it would have been a hard heart indeed which didn't warm to Tom and his mates, as, in the midst of a trip off to planet love, they find a post bag in the street and decide to deliver the letters themselves. But only after they have censored them. "I've got some bills, man. I don't want to be delivering any bad news," said one of the boys, chucking a load of envelopes out of the car window. Sadly, my postman appears not to be a raver.
Thomas Sutcliffe returns tomorrowReuse content