Television Review: Lost in Austen

This post is a bit of frugal recycling from December, 2010, to demonstrate the claim I made about evolving literature in Response to The Bright Old Oak.

Lost in Austen is a 4-part fantasy adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, produced by ITV in 2008, and available on video. I did have a video clip posted, but the user’s account is now closed. So here are all 4 episodes, each one in 4 tasty, bite-sized chunks. Now I can have pleasure of watching it all again.

1.11.21.31.42.12.22.32.43.13.23.33.44.14.24.34.4.

Amanda Price (Jemima Rooper) lives and breathes Pride and Prejudice. As you would expect of a true aficionado, she reads the Penguin Classics edition, which preserves the Austenesque spelling. So when she finds Elizabeth Bennet in her bathroom, looking for an escape from the 19th century, Amanda is happy to trade places and step into the world of Pride and Prejudice. But the magical door between Regency Longbourn and 21st century Hammersmith (think of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe) won’t open to let her back.

Amanda now has to take over the reins to make sure that Jane marries Bingley and Elizabeth marries Darcy. Difficult, what with Elizabeth off gallivanting in modern Hammersmith.

It all goes pear shaped the very next morning. Amanda, assumed to be a visiting friend of Elizabeth’s, is introduced to Bingley. When she curtsies, he immediately falls head over heels into her cleavage, and won’t give poor Jane a second look. Amanda eventually has to fend him off by saying she’s a lesbian. Bingley’s face, as he processes the information that she “steers the punt from the Cambridge end,” is one of the funniest scenes in the film.

And so it goes. Despite the best of intentions, Amanda makes a right pig’s ear of the whole thing. By the end of the 3rd episode, everyone is either married or engaged to the wrong person and Charlotte Lucas has gone off to Africa to be a missionary.

Amanda, of course, falls in love with Darcy and he with her. But she is still determined to unite Jane and Bingley, Elizabeth and Darcy. Will she succeed? And what will happen to Amanda? I didn’t see how the scriptwriters could get out of the corner they’d painted themselves into.

The minor characters also have surprises in store. Caroline Bingley, Lady Catherine de Burgh, Mrs Bennet and Wickham, all reveal sides to their characters that I’ve never seen in any other adaptation.

Mrs Bennet, played by Alex Kingston (Dr Corday in ER), is usually portrayed as an irredeemably silly woman. Here she demonstrates a steely determination to marry off her daughters well, because she knows that anything else will condemn them to a life of genteel poverty. And she shows real backbone in the confrontation with Lady Catherine de Burgh.

Mr Collins (Guy Henry) is the acid test of any P&P adaptation. Is he going to be sufficiently greasy? Yes, he is, although he’s not quite as unctuous and smarmy as the classic David Bamber portrayal in the superb 1995 BBC miniseries. But Henry edges ahead in the Vileness Stakes by playing pocket billiards and then sniffing his fingers. In public.

Lost in Austen is chock full of good stuff. I can’t recommend it too highly. Please watch it if you haven’t already. It’s brilliant.

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