The Weekend's TV: Miss Austen Regrets, SUN, BBC1
Love Soup, SAT, BBC1

Jane plainly needed lots of persuasion

As the plot of a Jane Austen novel, the plot of Jane Austen's life leaves a lot to be desired. True, it has big country houses, and trips to town, it has dances and visits and gossip and even a slender roster of potential suitors. But it lacks the consummation of Emma or Pride and Prejudice, the sealing fantasy – which Austen herself surely understood as an illusion – that a marriage is the same thing as a happy ending. Still, in the absence of an undiscovered Austen three-decker, the life may have to do, as it did in last year's film Becoming Jane and as it does in Gwyneth Hughes's drama Miss Austen Regrets, which offers us the writer not as Olympian observer of mortal agonies but as a vulnerable mortal herself, unprotected against the fevers of romance even by the antibodies of her own sharp fictions.

There are consolations in such an enterprise, of course, one of them being that she can supply quite a few of the lines herself. Hughes has been through the correspondence with a fine ivory comb, so that when Miss Austen muttered something waspish about an acquaintance's "coarse mother and... sisters like horses", or when she breathily described a young doctor as "something between a man and an angel", the words that were being put into her mouth were at least her own. And yet her reticence as a biographical subject still left enough elbow room for dramatic ambiguity. Were her gently mordant remarks about love and infatuation an accurate representation of her wise detachment from affairs of the heart, or did they mask a wounded sense of longing? When she announced that "the only way to get a man like Mr Darcy is to make him up", does the joke hide a wistful desire that it might have been otherwise?

Hughes built her narrative around Austen's relationship with her niece Fanny Knight, first turning to her aunt for advice on love and then, by accident, thwarting an incipient romance with Dr Charles Haden by being younger and prettier than her famous relative. Hugh Bonneville turned up as the Reverend Brook Bridges, an old flame of Jane's still- smouldering years after she'd first extinguished his hopes, while Olivia Williams played Jane, confessing her youthful flirtation with a man called Tom Lefroy to counter Fanny's accusations that she could have no direct understanding of the pangs of love. Fans of the writer who yearn for her to have had a little more sensibility and a little less sense won't have felt short-changed, with Austen gulping and weeping at various moments, as if lurve mattered far more than art. But Hughes intriguingly concluded with a contradiction of that crowd-pleasing version, suggesting that the biggest regret Austen may have had was not marrying for money when she had the chance. It was all, anyway, a good deal less embarrassing than it might have been.

David Renwick has also been attempting to farm the thin soil of romantic disillusionment in Love Soup, a series that admirably denies itself a lot of facile satisfactions but that still, nine episodes in, seems not to have found a confident rhythm. Part of the problem is Renwick's ingenuity as a comic writer and his apparently limitless ability to craft new humiliations for his characters. These are often very funny – a man being hurled out of a first-floor window into a bouncy castle, a woman trying to retrieve money from a blind busker's guitar case after being jolted into giving far too much – but they don't always strike you as having anything to do with the characters he's trying to make you believe in. In this week's episode, for example, Alice – a woman we know to have an acute sense of male unreliability – found herself being wooed by a weird German playwright who had necrophiliac tendencies. So far, so funny, particularly because he didn't speak English and they were accompanied on their date by his earnest translator. But then Alice agreed to go back to his hotel room with him, which seemed incredible.

True, the gags were loosely netted together by the idea of death, which was also explored in the filming of an obituary for a character who bore a distant resemblance to Richard Wilson (he combined hugely popular sitcom work with directing rebarbative avant-garde theatre pieces) and through the demise of Alice's relationship with Douglas. But too many of the comic ideas poked through the netting, as if Renwick had decided to jam them in even though they were the wrong shape for this narrative. You had the sense that he'd looked through his writer's notebook and collaged together every orphan idea he'd had for the past 10 years. Quite a few of them deserved a home somewhere, but all too often here you felt that the characters were propping up the gags, instead of the gags propping up the characters.

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