Update: Well, I liked the series. It ended rather quickly, but I found the first episode charming. At the bottom of this review, find links to my reviews of Epis 2, 3, and 4.
It’s unfortunate that ITV’s 2008 ‘Lost in Austen’, directed by Dan Zeff, shares the same title with the 2007 novel by Emma Campbell. The confusion is reflected in my sitemeter statistics, where people are (presumably) clicking on my review of the novel hoping to find my thoughts about the film.
Having watched the first episode of ‘Lost in Austen’, I can attest that the script, written by Guy Andrews, is nothing like Ms. Campbell’s novel. While I had problems with the plot of the book (or nonplot), I found the film refreshingly entertaining and Jemima Hooper a delight to watch. I even chuckled on occasion. The movie is what it is: entertainment for audiences who are interested in time travel and Austenesque period pieces.
One must suspend all disbelief and accept the film’s fun and frolicky intent in order to enjoy it. I would not try to make historical sense of the story, for some of the details are outlandishly wrong, and I would not try to make the time travel details logical. After all, how scientific could the premise of this story be? – A fictional character from a novel steps out of a doorway into a shower stall in a 21st Century London flat and communicates with a real person. Right there, any attempt to apply the laws of physics would make absolutely no sense.
I’m a fan of time travel novels, especially Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series and Jude Devereaux’s Night in Shining Armor. (Most recently, Laurie Viera Rigler tackled time travel in the Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict.) One of my all time favorite movies is that most romantic of 80’s classics, ‘Somewhere in Time’ with Christopher Reeve (at his handsomest) and Jane Seymour (at her primrosiest best.) So, I am disposed to like any story that transports a modern day character to a previous age. In my experience, no writer has made time travel seem realistically possible, not even Robert Heinlein, that master of science fiction, who tried his best. In Outlander, Claire steps from the 1940’s through a crack in the standing rocks on the fairy hill to 18th Century Scotland.
In ‘Somewhere in Time,’ Christopher Reeve wears authentic period clothes and repeats a mantra over and over to reach Elise Mackenna (Jane) at the turn of the 20th Century. A Delorian transports the heroes across the time-space continuum in ‘Back to the Future’. Would any of these methods realistically transport us to another century? Of course not, and I no longer attempt to apply logic to this genre. (See links below.)
‘Lost in Austen’ is the story of a modern woman entering a time and place she dreams about, encountering customs and social mores that are familiar and unfamiliar at the same time. We assume that with our advanced technology and knowledge of history, people from our age who travel back in time would be in a superior position. As Jemima Rooper (Amanda Price) so charmingly demonstrates, that is not necessarily the case. She is a stranger in a strange land. Although Amanda can predict the future, she is bewildered by her situation, contrasting what “should” happen (Mr. Bingley’s attraction to Jane) with his unexplained preference for her (he caught a glimpse of her cleavage).
In this tale Mrs. Bennet is still a flibbertygibbet, but as played by Alex Kingston, her spine is made of steel. She corners Amanda at the Assembly Ball and “favors her with a warning”, cautioning her not to obstruct any of her daughters in seeking a husband.
Amanda manages to dance with Mr. Darcy in a witty and awkward scene. His gallantry in rescuing his friend Bingley from embarrassment and his subsequent coldness to Amanda provides a delightful parallel-universe-counterpoint to Elizabeth Bennet’s first impression of him. Amanda, acutely aware that things are going awry, also knows how the plot of Pride and Prejudice develops, and her desire to push Jane towards Bingley so that he can become enamored of her places Jane in danger.
I enjoyed the depiction of the Bennet sisters. Mary, Kitty, Lydia, and Jane act as a Greek chorus, proverbially reacting to Amanda’s modern witticisms with a collective: “Ooooh! What did you mean when you said that?” Charlotte Lucas is smart as a whip, not believing Amanda’s excuse for swapping places with Lizzy.
My major disappointment is with Mr. Bennet. I adore Hugh Bonneville, but in this first episode his Mr. Bennet comes across as the cartoonish one-dimensional character I expected to encounter when I read the advance notices of this film. I hope his role fleshes out in future episodes and that he will seem less dense. Also, once Elizabeth Bennet steps into the 21st century, she disappears. I am curious to know what her life is like in the present.
I understand that critics are disposed to dislike this production. I was one of them when I saw the advance publicity. But frankly, given the pap we’ve been fed on t.v. (Has anyone seen the horror that is ‘Date My Ex’ on Bravo? In comparison Lost in Austen is sheer genius. Yeah, for anyone in the know, that’s meant to be a punny reference to another Bravo show.)
As a viewer starved for all things British, I’ll take a romp through the English countryside anytime, and watch ballroom scenes, handsome gents in tight breeches, lovely ladies in Regency gowns, and a time travel plot – even a tepid one – for a couple of hours of entertainment.
For our U.K. friends, the trailer for the second episode of this mini-series can be seen at this link. Frankly, I can’t wait to see the rest of this show (surreptitiously, of course.) It reminds me of a Chinese meal. Delicious, but one is hungry for more just a few hours later.