Lost in Austen (2008) 

Fans of Jane Austen either adore or loathe this recent adaptation which takes a "loving poke" at the characters in one of the most beloved books in English literature. I fall into the "Thanks, but I hate it!" camp.


The story revolves around Amanda Price (Jemima Rooper), who has read Pride & Prejudice so many times her beloved copy is somewhat dog-eared. She enjoys the romantic language, the memorable characters, and the angst. Most of all, she admires the emotionally distant but ultimately endearing Mr. Darcy, to whom she compares every man in her acquaintance, something of an irritation for her current boyfriend. One evening, quite by accident, she not only encounters the real Elizabeth Bennet (Gemma Arterton) but also discovers a doorway between their two worlds. The young women exchange places for a short time and Amanda's introduction to the household causes her to discover that not all is as it first seems -- or as Jane Austen wrote it.


Mrs. Bennet is indeed prone to fits of temper and hysterics but also has a strong side. Lydia (Perditia Weeks) is delightful and sweet, and Jane (Morven Christie) so shy she can hardly contain herself. Amanda has entered the story just prior to the ball in which Lizzie is meant to meet Mr. Darcy, but cannot rouse her friend on the other side of the locked door and so goes in her place. It soon becomes apparent that without Elizabeth, the story is about to take a much more dangerous and mangled turn as romances are turned on end, attractions run amuck, and Amanda comes to realize that Mr. Darcy is not all she thought he was. The result is a film that left me with mixed feelings. For the first hour, it is incredibly charming but once the story derailed and started departing from Austen's original characters and plot, I found it less attractive. Meddling on a minor level with personality quirks and characters is one thing, but it is quite another to give them personality transplants. It is, to be perfectly honest, cinematic fan fiction intended to fulfill female fantasies about encountering Mr. Darcy.


The script is very clever and on more than one occasion had me literally laughing out loud at its antics -- some of the moments are extremely funny (like Amanda pleading with Mr. Darcy to emerge dripping wet from a pond) and others rather shocking but also amusing (her kneeing Mr. Collins at a social function). But I did not like some of the drastic changes made to the characters or the storyline, nor the fact that Lizzie has no interest in returning to her home, family, and friends, much less befriending Mr. Darcy. On a different note, it was fun to see Wickham as more of a gentleman and less of a rake and their Mr. Collins is even more obnoxious and hideous than the others, which is quite an achievement. The acting all around is tremendous but Gemma Arterton managed to steal the film away from her co-stars -- in only ten minutes total screen time. On a positive note, the film touches on but does not underscore the importance and desirability of innocence. Amanda's previous sexual relationship threatens to ruin her future, and we learn that she wants a gentleman -- something hard to come by in modern-day London.


Mostly, this three-hour miniseries is fairly suitable for family viewing but there are minor things that bear mentioning. A handful of profanities and British slang permeate the dialogue. There is some cleavage and innuendo. Conversation between a married couple discusses the reasons why it has not been consummated yet, and an older woman makes some rather scandalous comments about whether or not a man is capable of pleasing a woman. Amanda says that Mr. Collins has a habit of "adjusting" his crotch and then smelling his fingers. (We see him sniffing them on several occasions.) A man and woman are accused of having spent the night together, but we don't know if anything happened between them. A girl admits to having lied about being "ravished" by a man. In order to force Mr. Bingley to stop pursuing him, Amanda intimates in veiled dialogue that she is a lesbian. He later confides this to his sister, who reveals that she too shares that interest, and mildly comes on to Amanda. Violence consists of a swordfight in which a man is shoved into the corner of a mantelpiece, and loses a great deal of blood.


Certain additions were interesting and there were some poignant moments. For the most part, all has a happy conclusion -- but it may not be the one you anticipated. It is a fairly harmless new twist on a story that most of us grew up with -- and I think how we approach it makes all the difference. Anyone capable of not comparing it to Pride & Prejudice will find it enjoyable, but the fan in me could not help agreeing with one of the quotes from the film: "Poor Jane Austen must be spinning in her grave!" 

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