The Real Jane Austen BBC Documentary (2002)

“Jane lived in a world where it was universally ackowledged that marriage was a market and this would become the central theme of her novels.”


This documentary, one of BBC’s “films for humanities and sciences”, directed by Nicky Patterson, uses potential look-alikes to Austen’s family, dressed in character, to present the information in a wonderful way.  They role-play as the family members, including Jane herself, as though they are being personally interviewed for the documentary. 

It is narrated by Anne Chancellor, the actress of 1995 BBC/A&E Caroline Bingley, who is also related to Jane Austen herself (by some long, winding road of genetics).  It also includes clips from that well-loved version of Pride and Prejudice.

Although the piece is about Jane Austen’s life completely, it offers some fantastic insights into Pride and Prejudice:  “In Pride and Prejudice there is a lively debate about what constitues a truly accomplished lady- A woman must have a thorough knowledge of music, singing, drawing, dancing and all the modern languages to deserve the word…”; while matching these with what Jane, herself, dealt with in her life. 

It begins with her early life and chronologically moves through to her older years and death.  It is colourful, interesting and (although slightly dry at times) warming to watch how her life panned out.  To be honest, when I first found out that Jane never married (shortly after reading her first book) I was very unimpressed, but now I am a bit older I think I understand Austen in a different way.  It was, afterall, in her later teenage years that she rejected a proposal from Mr. Big-Wither.

There are many similarities between Austen and her literary heroines, including the passion for reading, that we see in Lizzy, being highly displayed in Jane, and we can even see where Mr. Bennet parallels Austen’s own Father- what with his skulking off to the library and his seeking of refuge in his study.  He also seems to be one of the closer people to Austen, encouraging her talents.  Also, a lot of Jane Bennet seems to be similar to Cassandra Austen- being sensible, good humoured and her main confidante about ideas and thoughts.  I found that when I watched the documentary I was struck greatly by these things, and it was rather endearing to think she had immortalised her family in the books- if only through partial characterisations.

I love seeing how the elements of Jane’s life made their way to the pages of Pride and Prejudice.  This strongly touched upon point of needing money, and therefore needing rich marriages.  The problem with marrying for love, when there is no money.  And so on.  She also, obviously, rejected a suitor- just as Lizzy rejects Mr. Collins, entirely on the basis of dislike, lack of love and a disregard for the role money plays in comfort and security. 

Similarly, Mrs. Austen seems to play the role of Mrs. Bennet in Jane Austen’s life to certain extents.  This documentary makes it very obvious how much she pushed Jane into social events to meet a husband.  However, when Tom Lefroy is mentioned it differs entirely to the storyline seen in Becoming Jane.  There is no Mr. Darcy subtext but it is, however, interesting to note that he gets sent back to London by Aunt Lefroy- just as Bingley gets stolen from Jane and sent to London by another.

It is also, incredibly, mentioned that Jane even made up imaginary characters and put them in to her Father’s parish register.  The name “Henry Fredrich Howard Fitzwilliam” married to Jane Austen.  Perhaps this imaginary ‘Fitzwilliam’ was the first spark of Mr. Darcy?  Which of Jane Austen’s literary bachelors do you think she would have most liked to marry?

Another area that is discussed is the publishing of Pride and Prejudice “one of the most prized and treasured novels in English literature”.  Hearing this line made me smile.  It truly is an absolute gem.


Filed under Movie Review

6 responses to “The Real Jane Austen BBC Documentary (2002)

  1. dave

    Can someone please name the piano music at the end of “The Real Jane Austen” BBC Documentary (2002)?

    Thank you

    • thatjennie

      I’ll get right on it and see what I can find!

    • thatjennie

      So far I’ve read that it is music from different BBC productions. I’ve also read that it is an original score by Lesley Barber (IMDB) of which the songs were: “Glass”, “Busy Nothings”, “I Spoke in Haste”, “Paying for the Party”, “I Missed You”, “Sentimental Journey”.
      You can buy those songs on iTunes:

      From listening to a bunch of the tracks I believe that the song you are looking for is the song: ‘I Missed You’ which is also from Mansfield Park. It only costs 1.69 on iTunes and is about 3-4 minutes long.

      I hope this helped. If you need any other questions answered, this is the place to come!

  2. jon Boone

    Will a DVD of the movie be available any time soon?

  3. Mariniii

    Puede decirme alguien si el documental sobre jane austen de la BBC esta traducido al español o subtitulado? si alguien tiene algun enlace o algo por el estilo agradeceria que me lo pasaran. gracias

    • thatjennie

      Subtitles- unfortunately there aren’t any versions on youtube I can see with Spanish subtitles. I recommend contacting the ABC/BBC store directly to ask- but I couldn’t even find this on DVD when I looked. I assume on the DVD version subtitling will be offered.

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