Price and Prejudice, or Lost in Austen reviewedPosted: 28 December 2008
Lost in Austen, 4 episodes written by Guy Andrews, directed by Dan Zeff (Mammoth Screen, 2008) [imdb]
My year of Austen reviews wouldn’t be complete without this interesting mini-series that originally aired in the UK in September. It first aired in Canada in November on the digital channel that used to have the unfortunate initials CLT – can’t remember what that stood for. The W took it to standard cable this past weekend; both airings included Austen adaptations from the last fifteen years.
Lost in Austen can either be a Janeite’s fantasy or worst nightmare. For its protagonist, Amanda Price (Jemima Rooper, pictured), it’s more like the latter as she is magically transported, Narnia-style, from her 21st-century London flat to the Bennets’ house, Longbourn. Just to show she is fanatical about Pride and Prejudice, we see Amanda reading the novel for the umpteenth time at least twice. She even brings her battered Penguin paperback (not to mention other modern items) with her when Elizabeth Bennet (Gemma Arterton) shows her the magic door. Not sure why, since she knows the plot inside out, so much so that she finishes other characters’ sentences and explains what should be happening to Elizabeth, who she hopes is actually listening on the other side of the door.
I type “should be” because everything goes horribly wrong: courtships don’t happen, the wrong people get married, and Amanda gets inextricably deeper in the mess she’s created. By the time the third hour has finished, it’s gone so far off the original track of the novel that, unfortunately, the winding down in the fourth hour was not enough to tie up the loose ends properly. And I suspect there have been edits to account for commercials on this side of the Atlantic, the most important of which is the fate of Elizabeth Bennet.
I did like the concept that writer Guy Andrews attempted here: a new approach to an Austen adaptation that also plays with the modern fascination with Austen. As Amanda herself puts it when she asks Darcy (Elliot Cowan) to recreate the one scene any female Austen fan would want recreated, she finds herself in a “strange post-modern moment”. And the execution was effective in that Amanda’s presence, never minding her actions, turns the whole world of Pride and Prejudice upside down to the point that it could form the basis for its own novel, but of course nothing beats the source material.
There are some highlights: Mr Austen’s (Hugh Bonneville) witty lines provide great entertainment, as do a couple from Darcy: of him and Bingley entering the “sordid world of the Bennets” on learning Mr Collins’ engagement, and describing Amanda as “an instrument of Satan”. And Amanda’s attempt to repel Bingley and his sister’s response when she confronts Amanda about it is truly a post-modern surprise.
And Lost in Austen indeed was a surprise in Jane Austen on (North American) television in 2008. A refreshing change to the straight adaptation, and it works. If there are edits, I’m hoping it shows up here on DVD soon. 7/10
As an aside, and to continue from a previous post, this production has many connections with the new Doctor Who, one for each season in fact:
- Florence Hoath – Kitty Bennet here, and Nancy in “Empty Child”/”Doctor Dances”
- Dan Zeff – director of Lost in Austen and “Love and Monsters”
- Christina Cole – Caroline Bingley, and Lilith in “The Shakespeare Code”
- Alex Kingston – Mrs Bennet, and River Song in “Silence in the Library”/”Forest of the Dead”
Photo credit: ITV