What a delight it was for me to catch the Canadian premiere of Lost in Austen on the new VIVA channel last night, two months after its UK debut on ITV. No, I had not anticipated it with much eagerness, I admit, nor had I held any expectations before I watched it. But, what a pleasant surprise.
I was somewhat skeptical about another time-travel movie and yet another take on Pride and Prejudice. It seems we are doing Jane Austen a disservice to have so many different “versions” of her ingenious work, turning P & P into a modern day literary cliché. How many more original antics can screen writers squeeze out after all the adaptations and fan fiction spin-offs in recent decades? But this one is fresh and original. It is laugh-out-loud funny, entertaining, with intelligent dialogues and a new perspective. I’m afraid to say too, that there are moments with SNL type of parody on the story and its characters, especially Colin Firth’s role as Mr. Darcy.
But it’s all harmless fun. “No offense taken.” I’m sure Jane, with her sense of humor and satire, would have responded, or Colin, for that matter.
Amanda Price (Jemima Rooper, The Black Dahlia, 2006), a modern day working female living in Hammersmith, London, is a JA addict. Reading Pride and Prejudice has become her escape from her lacklustre life. She reminds me of Renée Zellweger’s Bridget Jones, although Amanda here manages to keep her weight under control and has a boyfriend that gets drunk on beer and proposes to her with a beer bottle tag as a wedding ring. So, it is a real fantasy for her to find Elizabeth Bennet (Gemma Arterton, Quantum of Solace, 2008 ) in her bathroom, showing her a portal that leads straight to the Bennet house. But understandably, Amanda is a bewildered and reluctant time-traveler, at least at this point.
The freshness of the story comes from all the twists that do not follow Jane Austen’s story. As with my usual reviews, I don’t like to give out spoilers. But I have to say, the key to these ingenious renderings is that Amanda Price swaps places with Elizabeth Bennet. With Lizzy out of the picture in P & P, the rest of the story is up to the screen writer Guy Andrews’ and director Dan Zeff’s own imagination.
In this first episode, most of the major characters are introduced. All of them deliver a lively performance, although I’m particularly fond of Amanda and Mr. Bingley (Tom Mison). The music reminds me of the 1995 BBC production, energetic and swift. In turn, the pacing is quick and effective. My main criticism though, is the set design of the interior of the Bennet house. It looks more like a modern day rather than an early 19th Century setting, quite incompatible with the exterior of the house.
Right from the start, I have resolved to not take this TV production too seriously, but just immerse myself in the wild and fanciful ride it freely takes me. After all, Jane herself had excelled in this very act, transporting us to meet all sorts of characters and situations through the imaginary worlds of her novels. I’m sure she would have a good laugh too tonight if she were watching with me… now that would be a fantasy indeed.
Just Click to read my review of the other episodes: