Mini-Series Review: Lost in Austen

Rating: 3.5/ 5


I know at least one of my readers is groaning right about now. It seems Jane Austen is mentioned on this blog every couple of months. I cant really help it, Austen's world is like my favorite comfort read/ watch/ food all rolled up into one.

Last month I found myself trolling Netflix for something light to watch when the mini-series 'Lost in Austen' (LiA) popped up in my queue. It was perfect, over 3 hours long I watched it over a period of two weeks, sometimes as little as 10 minutes when I had time to spare. Being familiar with the story did help with not losing continuity but this version does have enough originality to keep the Austen fan involved and satisfied.

Amanda Price (Jemima Rooper), of Hammersmith, London, spends far too much time with her copy of Pride & Prejudice as an escape from her dull job and unromantic boyfriend. Her idea of a perfect night is at home, pouring herself a glass of wine, curling up in her jammies with Darcy's voice and Austen's language running through her head. Her best friend and mom think she's too involved with Darcy, her mom even accusing her of holding all the men she knows to impossible standards.

But, as Amanda explains, she just loves Austen's England so much, the manners, the gentility, the courtship. So, she thinks she's hallucinating when one evening, as she's engaged in her favorite pastime, hearing an intruder in the bathroom, she investigates to find .... Elizabeth Bennett (Gemma Arterton)!

Apparently, Amanda has opened some sort of portal between 21st century England and the Regency period. And the next time Lizzy turns up, it's to push Amanda through the portal, into the attic in Longbourne. The idea being that Lizzy is visiting Amanda's folks in Hammersmith for an extended period while Amanda takes her place in the bosom of the Bennet family.

Amanda's original delight is unbounded. She arrives just as Mrs. Bennet is clamoring away about Netherfield Park being 'let at last' and with drop-jawed awe she exclaims

'We're right at the beginning aren't we??'

Unfortunately, for Miss Price, things arent quite so smooth-sailing after that. The Bennet family, accepts the strangely dressed girl given over to obscure statements 'Jane will marry Bingley, Lizzy will marry Darcy', with, if not enthusiasm, then fondness for Lizzy's sake.

But, as the days go on, Amanda starts forcing events in an effort at keeping things to Austen's timeline, coercing Jane (Morven Christie) into the rain so she can stay over at Netherfield Park, or strong-arming Bingley (Tom Mison) into throwing a ball at his place. But, these people unlike the 2D acquaintances she has lovingly spent countless hours with, have minds of their own and are not so easily maneuvered. And she comes face to face with the most 'disagreeable' form of Darcy (Elliot Cowan) yet, who as Amanda indignantly objects '... is no Colin Firth is he??'

She soon finds that all her well-intentioned meddling is leading to unforeseen consequences and when a disastrous event occurs (Lady Catherine decides to foist a trio of even more objectionable Collins' brothers on the unmarried Bennets for one, and others which I will not spoil) she ceases actively arranging things and decides to just go along for the ride. And funnily enough, things straighten themselves out, if not as Austen intended, then with a guaranteed happy ending for our heroine.

I'm one of those guilty of holding Austen adaptations to high standards. But, in reality, it's not the adaptations that I find outrageous, it's when someone takes liberties with the original itself (*cough* Keira Knightley's P&P). I thought LiA is well-worth the watch for a fantasy adaptation. It is a very romanticized version, not as real as Austen's world, but with that sheen of happy-endings-for-everyone (even poor forgotten Caroline Bingley) that makes up frothy mind-candy. I liked it for that. And all the actors did a great job. The mini-series is also going to be adapted into a movie by 2011.

If I had to find fault with it, I think it's that the film-makers do not push the envelope too much. When Amanda finds herself in the Bennet household, she's dressed in jeans, boots and a leather jacket with her hair untied and in bangs. No one does so much as raise an eyebrow at the unconventional attire or hair style.

Amanda is similarly very ill-prepared for spending time in Regency England for someone who has read about it for so long, she continually finds things surprising or doesn't understand how society behaves.

And it seems so weird for the Bennet family to accept that Lizzy has traveled alone to an unknown location or leaving all her clothes behind. Or to accept a stranger with no luggage of her own. Ahh, quibbles!!

Darcy follows Amanda into 21st century London at one point, and I loved the scene where she comes across his starched self, completely anachronistic in brocade waist-coat and top-hat blinking wide-eyed at all the commotion around him. He greets Amanda with relief, being the devil he knows, 'What is this infernal place, Miss Price?'

The best part of this adaptation, and one which in Amanda's words would have Ms. Austen spinning in her grave is Wickham (Tom Riley). The charmer everyone loves to hate has a great character arc here. In fact, I would have been much happier with this version if they had done away with Austen's original hero and come up with another in his place.

Now, I'm not certain if this desire to subvert the original isn't because I hated Darcy's character here (except in the scene mentioned below) and didnt think he was believable and thought Wickham was gorgeous (ladies, cast your eyes to the left), but, I'm sure that the film-makers were not looking to be too radical, they just wanted soft-focus romance which LiA does provide.

In closing, I have to mention LiA's nod to the original wet shirt scene. Made all the more sweet because LiA's Darcy doesnt know what it is Amanda's after, he agrees to dunk himself in cold water because he wants to please her. Awwwww!!

Of course, as hunky as Mr. Cowan is, no Darcy to my mind has ever compared to the '95 BBC adaptation, so I will leave you with the infamous clip (really, I'm surprised it took so long for Colin Firth to be embedded on this blog) ..... so, enjoy!!



9 comments:

Smita said...

Groaaaan!!!

Kals said...

LiA is perfect comfort food :)

Totally agree about Wickham, of course. He was such a distraction! I'm looking forward to the movie version already :)

bouncingbubble said...

I'm getting hold of this one for sure.

couchpapaya said...

Smita - There you go :)

Kals - Welcome to the blog!! And Wickham *sigh* who would have thought??!! Heh!! I'm going to take your suggestion and make sure I watch the movie with a big tub of ice cream to keep me company :) Too bad casting info for the movie isnt available yet!!

Bubbles - Do, I'm sure you'll enjoy it!!

avdi said...

I am happy as a puppy with this :D

I can be pretty harsh with JA adaptations too, there was this book called the Jane Austen Club which was written up like anything.. but I didnt enjoy it.

Now this sounds like fun.. Tom Riley eh.. and nice to lay my eyes upon a wet darcy once more, though its not in the book.

nishitak said...

I always had a soft spot for Wickham, he definitely looks dashing in this pic you have of him!

I usually find P&P adaptations boring and avoid them like the plague. But you pretty much convinced me about this one :)

couchpapaya said...

Avdi - I knew you'd be on board with this series!! I totally understood the wet shirt scene in this movie. For Amanda, Darcy and Firth are inseparable, she even refers to him (see the dialogue in my post). So when faced with the original she almost has to ask him to enact it to get rid of the fantasy version in her mind. In this case, her reality turns out to be even more delicious, I'm sure she had no problem exorcising Firth from her mind :D

Nishita - So you like the bad boys huh? Then definitely read the Roarke books from the beginning!!! I can pretty much watch anything even remotely derived from Austen (though I might not be so kind to it later), so I cannot guarantee you wont be bored ... so you've been warned :) Anyways, let me know what you think if you get your hands on it! And, I hope your little one gets better soon!

Shweta said...

This was a total fun series. Loved it. The Wet Shirt scene definitely made for a hearty laugh :)

couchpapaya said...

Shweta - I was amused at the start of the scene, because I wasnt liking Darcy all that much until that moment. Actually, the instant he started talking (the whole I find everything about you disagreeable) I disliked him again, but Mr. Cowan sure makes a pretty picture. I like the series because it was enough of a departure from Austen that I didnt feel they were mangling the original :)

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