Friday, 26 September 2008

Lost in Austen

Given the numerous adaptations of Pride and Prejudice, can we really handle yet another? Yet Lost in Austen offers a completely different take on the classic novel. In 2008, Amanda Price, perhaps the biggest fan of P+P (who else would want that theme music from the 1995 version as their mobile phone ringtone?), is living a typical young woman’s life in Hammersmith: flat, boyfriend, and Elizabeth Bennett in her bathroom. Alright, maybe not quite so typical.
Amanda steps through the same portal that Elizabeth did to find herself in Longbourne, and promptly gets stuck there, with Elizabeth trapped in 2008. At first, all seems to go well. She is accepted as one of Lizzie’s friends, meets Mr Bingley, and even dances with Elliot Cowan’s Darcy on their first meeting, something not even Elizabeth could achieve.
Yet from there, it all goes awry. Despite Amanda’s best efforts, Bingley notices her more than Jane, and while he is still busy agonising over her rejection and working out his feelings for Jane, Jane has married the slimiest Mr Collins ever seen, played with slippery aplomb by Guy Henry.
From here on in, it seems that very few of the characters are as we know them. Be prepared for some revelations that, as Amanda puts it, would have “Jane Austen spinning in her grave”. Meanwhile, Darcy too has added himself to the growing list of Amanda’s admirers, despite her comparative coarseness and lack of accomplishments. Although she is flattered - and let’s face it, who wouldn’t be? - she is adamant that he should meet Elizabeth, but she is still stuck in Amanda’s world.
Many twists and turns later, Amanda finds herself back in her Hammersmith, and Darcy follows her. There was something startling and yet wonderfully artistic on seeing Darcy in all his Georgian finery, standing in the main street of Hammersmith, looking at his surroundings in awe, disgust, and yet with his usual gentlemanly composure.
They find Elizabeth, who is fitting in with her new surroundings much more seamlessly than Amanda did in Elizabeth’s world. She returns to Longbourne with them, but who will return to Netherfield with Darcy?
Lost in Austen is pure escapism. Jemima Rooper as Amanda gets the line between doing the right thing and being swept away by every woman’s fantasy man just right. Hugh Bonneville and Alex Kingston play off each other well as Mr and Mrs Bennett, yet sadly we do not see enough of Gemma Arterton as Elizabeth. Tom Mison takes Bingley down an unfamiliar road of depression and self-destruction, and although it is not a pretty sight, Mison handles it well.
There are also some genuinely humorous moments, from Amanda’s voice over thoughts, to her entertaining the Bingley’s with Petula Clark’s “Downtown”; but by far the most amusing scene involves Mr Darcy and a lake at Netherfield.
Austen purists will undoubtedly be affronted by the erratic plot, yet it is interesting to explore how the characters would act in situations and developments that are as alien to us as to them. All in all, Lost in Austen is an entertaining, refreshing version of a book so popular it is in danger of being done to death. It does not take itself seriously, and it not meant to be; rather it is just light-hearted fun. Try finding something better to watch at nine ‘o’ clock on a Wednesday.

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