This BBC mini-series has the unenviable task of winning over audiences very likely familiar with Ang Lee and Emma Thompson’s excellent theatrical adaptation of the Jane Austen novel. And the opening scene might very alarm many a viewer: the rather steamy seduction on display does not, at first blush, seem to fit in to the comedy of manners one is expecting. The post-credit sequence is also rather more gothically melodramatic than one might anticipate (or hope for). Thereafter, however, the series settles into a tone more befitting Austen. The script is by Andrew Davies, easily one of the best scribes British television has to offer. He has graced us with contemporary pieces such as a version of Othello set amidst the members of the London Metropolitan Police and the House of Cards trilogy (an adaptation that is superior to its source material), as well as superb period adaptations (Middlemarch, for example). Here, his acid wit finds kindred spirit in Austen, and the result is very fine indeed.
The sound is 2.0, which might disappoint viewers used to the fact that 5.1 is increasingly the standard for recent television releases, but is certainly perfectly adequate all the same. Both sound effects and score are active in front and rear speakers, and the result is quite nicely immersive. The (vital) dialogue is perfectly clear and never buried in the mix or distorted.
The colours are very rich and warm, to the point that the opening sequence belies the shot-on-video nature of the production. This becomes rather more obvious in the exterior day scenes, however. The edges in the picture are sharp almost to the point of harshness. Paradoxically, the faces are rather soft, and can appear rather blurred. Grain is minimal, however.
The commentary track brings together director, producer and cast members, but not, unfortunately, the writer. At any rate, it’s an affable, coherent discussion, and one can keep track of who is saying what, which isn’t always the case with such efforts. Davies (along with producer Ann Pivcevic) is interviewed in the accompanying featurette. A photo gallery rounds things out here. Disc 2 offers Miss Austen Regrets, a full 90 minute biopic, which could easily have been released on its own. There is also a 4-part radio play, “Remembering Jane Austen.”
This is a fine production, easily able to stand on its own. That the extras are as generous as they are is an added bonus.