In the UK: Wednesdays, 9pm, ITV1
What's that? Is it the sound of something precious and beautiful being trampled underfoot by philistines and idiots?
Erm, no. Surprisingly, it's not and we have yet another miracle of the post-Grade age: an ITV1 primetime drama that doesn't suck, doesn't insult the intelligence and actually makes you hunger for more.
Any more of this and it'll almost become ordinary, expected even, that ITV1 dramas won't make you feel like you've been hit on the head by a six-pack of Kestrels on a night out in Malia.
Anyway, it is a truth, universally acknowledged, that all women of a certain temperament love Pride and Prejudice, particularly that bit with Colin Firth in the water. Many are the women who know it almost word for word; and no doubt there are many who wish they could be in it, particularly during that bit with Colin Firth in the water.
So Lost in Austen is quite a clever idea, even if sounds a bit daft at first: what would happen if somehow you ended up in the novel Pride and Prejudice, having taken Elizabeth Bennet's place. You're a big fan, you know what's supposed to happen, who's supposed to end up with whom and how.
But what if you ballsed it all up?
Jemima Rooper stars as Amanda Price - the frustrated romantic who lives for reading and adores the characters in her Jane Austen books. Then one day she discovers a gateway in her flat and ends up being transported to her favourite world, the world of Pride and Prejudice. But is the “true” story in danger of being thrown off track by her presence?
Is it any good?
In a lot of ways, yes. It's fun, well written (bar about the first five minutes which were simply horrid) and promises to get better with future episodes. The intrigue, of course, is in seeing how Pride and Prejudice would turn out if Lizzie Bennet weren't in it and a very self-aware, smart 21st century woman who knows how it's all supposed to turn out is desperately trying to make sure that neither Bingley nor Darcy fall in love with her.
What's especially satisfying is there's no attempt to dumb down the early 19th century language. It assumes the viewer knows what's supposed to be going, what a quadrille is, etc. There's no suggestion that the Bennet's are unsophisticated or stupid and none of the characters are mocked - even Mr and Mrs Bennet. There's an underlying respect for the original and the show does nothing to ignore the fact most of the book's modern popularity comes from a rival broadcaster's adaptation.
God, it's nice to be treated like an adult for a change.
It's just a bit off, here and there, that's all. The biggest problem is Elizabeth, played by Bond girl to be Gemma Arterton - although despite the copious amount of publicity about her appearance in this, if you blinked, you pretty much missed her. The beloved heroine as written here is more sneaky and unpleasant than the self-sacrificing, loyal firebrand of the book, and while Arterton's capable of handling the dialogue, she lacks the feistiness of Elizabeth.
Eliot Cowan just isn't Darcy, no matter how hard he tries. His big reveal is disappointing to say the least, although that could well be intentional - Rooper's Price is equally disappointed so I'm suspecting a certain mirroring of her character with Elizabeth's; I'm just not sure that works. There are also a couple of anachronisms, other than the obvious ones, that mess with the suspension of disbelief, if you spot them*.
The rest of the cast are very good, though, in particular Hugh Bonneville (Mr Bennet), Alex Kingston (Mrs Bennet) and Perdita Weeks (Lydia). There's also a little bit of a Hex reunion going on, since Rooper's co-star in that show, Christine Cole, plays Caroline Bingley. Not that there should ever be a Hex reunion, if possible.
It's not quite the delightful Jasper Ffordian experience it could have been, more like A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court done as a rom-com. But it's a nice, if slightly fluffy way to pass an hour.
Here's a YouTube behind the scenes, etc, video.
* The Bennets would probably have known what a sandwich was, for example, since the Earl of Sandwich invented it before 1760, although in fairness it was known mainly as a late night snack for men, so the girls might not know about it.
- September 29, 2008: Series finale: Lost in Austen 1x4
A look at the series Lost in Austen
- April 18, 2013: Review: Da Vinci's Demons 1x1 (Starz/FOX)
A review of the first episode of Starz's Da Vinci's Demons