Jane Austen documentary double feature

I’m late to the post in writing this (almost everyone has shared or seen this on facebook), but I feel it incumbent upon me to mention that Amanda Vickery’s Pride and Prejudice: Having a Ball is available on YouTube. In this documentary, which she presents alongside arts journalist Alastair Sooke, we get to see as faithful a re-creation as possible of the Netherfield ball, where Darcy and Elizabeth first dance. Food historian Ivan Day (check off a number on your Regency bingo card) talks about and prepares the menu for the banquet, Professor John Mullan opines, make-up expert Sally Pointer demonstrates (she says the documentary will be the largest assembly of people wearing historically accurate make-up) and dance master Stuart Marsden put volunteers from the Guildford School of Acting through their paces at Chawton House.

The documentary goes into the practical aspects of hosting a private ball, from the duration of the candles (eight hours) to the dance cheat sheets to the need to change from outdoor shoes to dancing shoes. Alastair Sooke gets to dress as a fashionable young man of the period and during that process, they discuss the fact that the cutaway coat exposes and emphasizes a man’s crotch, which of course is obvious but something I had not expressly comprehended before.

One little comment I might make is that several times Darcy is referred to as extremely wealth with his 10,000 a year, but I might mention that while he’s certainly wealthy, he’s probably not the wealthiest Austen character and may even suffer in comparison to Edward Austen Knight, Jane’s brother and in whose house this documentary is filmed. My friend Chris Sandrawich with the Jane Austen Society UK Midlands branch has often pointed this out to me. Many landowners were land rich and cash poor. That said, I wouldn’t turn Darcy down (if I weren’t already married that is, and lived in the Regency … and was Elizabeth Bennet).

Now I practically saw Having a Ball back-to-back with Vickery’s 2011 documentary The Many Lovers of Jane Austen, that examines Jane’s life, her writing, her success, her literary disappearance and then her re-emergence thanks to the fact that WH Smith needed cheap (out of copyright) literature to sell to railway passengers. I also really enjoyed seeing scenes from the 1967 BBC miniseries. I’ve been looking forward to this documentary for some time, both because I was at the 2011 Fort Worth AGM where Vickery filmed and also because I use Vickery as a character in my soon to be published Jane, Actually.

The usual suspects are there and again I think you can check off John Mullan, Andrew Davies and even Alastair Sooke if I recall correctly. Both documentaries provided a much needed fix. My only real disappointment is that Having a Ball never showed the presentation of white soup, only described its ingredients. I would dearly love to see how Day’s white soup compared to that shown in the Supersizers Go Regency I earlier posted.

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