Lost in Austen

8 November 2011

So anyway, I watched Lost in Austen for the first time last night and now I am watching it again as it is unexpectedly wonderful. I wish I’d watched it when it was on television but recall snubbing it under the assumption that it would make me furious. How wrong I was.

Before I decided to write this post, I had a look at the reviews on IMDB and as usual was highly amused by the slew of UK viewers praising it while the overseas viewers went into a frenzy of bitching, while, as usual, deploring the British enthusiasts’ cavalier attitude to our historical and literary heritage. That’s the thing though – sadly parochial though this will seem but we do kind of tend to regard Austen, Brontë, Christie, Dickens, Shakespeare et al as ‘ours’ (after all, we Britishers have slogged our way through at least most of the above since primary school so we have to have some sort of pay back. I say ‘slogged’ but I’ll hold my hand up here and admit that firstly, I was a precocious brat and read my first Austen and Dickens at the age of seven and loved both and secondly that the most painful period of my school career, other than the Bullying Stage, was the time I had to study Of Mice and Men, a book of such tiresome and unrelenting despondency that I’ve done my best to avoid all of its ilk ever since) and to the British this sense of weird ownership is defined by our love of poking fun at the things that we hold most dear.

God help anyone else who does it though…

I can sort of see why Lost in Austen made some viewers outraged, but at the same time I kind of think they went into it determined to be made furious, rather in the manner of liberals who read the comments (and, well, everything else) on the Daily Mail website, as after all it never makes any claim to be anything other than pure fantasy.

I love it though. I love the characters and the clothes and the setting and the gentle sense of humour. Yes, some of the characters are turned completely on their heads amidst the general chaos but I think that worked very well. Mr Wickham in particular was a lot of fun and probably my favourite character in the entire series – I kind of hoped that the heroine would end up with him at the end. I also loved Hugh Bonneville as Mr Bennet.

Jemima Rooper who played the modern day heroine, Amanda, will always be The Slutty One In As If (remember As If?) is superb although I did wonder how she managed to make so many social faux pas despite being such an apparently avid reader and viewer of Pride and Prejudice. She also happens to be one of those actresses who has what I can only call a ‘modern face’ that doesn’t really work in costume dramas (I’ve noted this about her before in Poirot and Wives and Daughters), which works very well here as she can’t help but strike a jarring note. This reminds me that my grandmother always used to refer to a certain type of female as having ‘an old fashioned face’ which is highly descriptive, I feel and yet at the same time entirely ambiguous.

On the other hand, Elliot Cowan, who plays Darcy fits in very well although I rather love him so I would say that, wouldn’t I? He’s a great actor but I’ve yet to see him play anything other than brooding grumpy men – most particularly in episodes of Marple and Poirot. Has anyone seen him be cheerful in anything? Did he play the magician chap in The Ruby in the Smoke? He’s lovely in this though – abrupt, handsome, punctilious and kind of smouldering. The scene where he stands bewildered in the midst of London traffic was also genuinely rather moving – this is after all a man who is painfully conscious at all times of his standing in his own orderly world.

I just looked him up on Wikipedia and oh he comes from Colchester like me. This always makes me warm to a person. That and playing an excellent Mr Darcy.

I’m not sure how happy I was with the ending as I wasn’t sure how happy Amanda would be with her choice of man plus it seemed like the ‘mismatchings’ that occurred within the book were all doomed to remain unconsummated, so surely so must hers have been as well? I also wondered what the consequence of breaking her word to Lady Catherine de Bourgh (Lindsay Duncan at her most glacial) would be to at least one of the aforementioned mismatches.

On the whole though, this is so much fun and perfect viewing for chilly autumn evenings. What I’d like now is a sequel covering what Elizabeth Bennet got up to during her time in modern day Hammersmith as I kept wondering what she was doing on the other side of the attic door!

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