LOST IN AUSTEN
Lost in Austen is what is commonly referred to in fan fiction as a Mary Sue story. The term Mary Sue originated in Star Trek (1966-9) fan fiction to refer to a fan-written story where the author has clearly inserted a wish fulfilment substitute for themselves, someone who is beautiful, sexually alluring, highly accomplished etc and ends up catching the attention of and having a fabulous romance/relationship with the leading character (ie. the authors object of desire). Lost in Austen is slightly mitigated by the fact that it operates on a much higher literary plane and that the author is a male as opposed to a woman as most Mary Sue authors are. Nevertheless, is in all essential regards Lost in Austen a Mary Sue story about a woman entering a work of fiction and having the male half of the greatest love story of all time (as the script itself describes it) fall in love with her (along with most of the other characters in the story at various other points, including even one of the female characters).
Such criticism raised, Lost in Austen is nevertheless an absolute delight. Guy Andrews has a superb grasp of the formalism of Jane Austens dialogue and allows the elegant play of manners and veiled barbs to dance with a real joy. The mini-series is as much worth watching for the joy of the writing as it is anything else. It certainly demands a close familiarity with the story and characters of Pride and Prejudice in order to grasp the nuances, although can certainly be enjoyed without (as was the case with my viewing companion who was completely ignorant of matters Austen).
Guy Andrews not only weaves an appealing culture clash story and romance out of the concept but uses it to sharply interrogate the characters and the social milieu of the story. Mrs Bennet is criticized as being predatory in her desire to procure (financially) worthwhile marriages for her daughters; Darcy is shown to be disastrously wrong about some of the harsh judgements he passes on characters; Wickham is redeemed from being a cad and given a less damning spin where it is shown that it was Georgiana Darcy who had a girlish crush on him rather than he who ravaged her; while in a daring move Caroline Bingley is shown to secretly hold lesbian tendencies. Jemima Rooper even has several stretches of dialogue where she takes Darcy to task for being a useless aristocrat: You would benefit from an occupation of some kind. You have no function. No purpose.
There are times that the mini-series sets out to upset the politeness of the milieu and its conventions like the image of Jemima Rooper demanding to know if she is on Candid Camera or that Jim Carrey film [The Truman Show (1998)] and wondering what she has to do to get out of there by whipping her dress up and showing Morven Christie her landing strip and asking if she has to snog her. Drrrr, says Jemima Rooper at one point, Thats Jane Austen spinning in her grave like a cat in a tumble dryer. The romance of the era is punctured by historical realities such as Jemima Rooper facing the prospect of having to brush her teeth with soap and a faggot of twigs. Not too much is given over to how Elizabeth Bennet thrives in the modern day, although she (James Bond girl Gemma Atterton) does turn up in the last episode, having slotted surprisingly easily into the modern world and become a nanny. Elizabeth Bennet is lending me her mobile? Jemima Rooper exclaims.
The mini-series comes very much post-informed by the classic BBC tv mini-series adaptation Pride and Prejudice (1995). There is even a scene where Jemima Rooper persuades Elliot Cowan to take off his shirt and have a dip in the lake recreating the now infamous scene (made iconic by the Bridget Jones books) where Jennifer Ehle comes across Colin Firths Darcy in his shirt and breeches just having been for a swim. Im having a bit of a strange postmodern moment here, Jemina Rooper comments while melting into a pile of lust. Elsewhere the mini-series attempts to gain some seal approval by reusing the costumes from a number of other Jane Austen film and tv adaptations.
The actors work superbly well. Elliot Cowan does an excellent job in nailing Darcy, delivering the dialogue with all the requisite brooding and rudeness, albeit shot through with a pouty boyish vulnerability at times. Quite clearly, Cowan is standing in the shadow of and undeniably influenced by Colin Firths definite portrayal of Darcy in the abovementioned BBC mini-series but he is nevertheless excellent. Expect to hear more things from Elliot Cowan soon. There are some other extremely good performances. Indeed, every single above-listed actor can be commended, most notable being Hugh Bonneville who seems to have channelled Jim Broadbent in his roly-poly absent-minded Mr Bennet; Tom Riley as the dashingly roguish but surprisingly redeemable Wickham; Morven Christie as the appealingly sweet-natured Jane; and Christina Cole who delivers Caroline in a series of archly purred acid-dripping barbs.
Lost in Austen was an acclaimed success and a film adaptation has been announced.
(Winner in this sites Top 10 Films of 2008 list. Nominee for Best Original Screenplay, Best Supporting Actress (Morven Christie) and Best Supporting Actress (Christina Cole) at this sites Best of 2008 Awards).
Mini-series online in several parts beginning here:-