Review: Lost in Austen 1×1

Lost in a good book

Lost in Austen

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?

Plot

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.




  • Hi Rob, hope you had good hols! I’ve been away so caught this by accident last night. Being a girl wot writes romantic fiction and loves P&P (though actually that scene with Colin Firth annoys the hell out of me eye candy and all as he is because Andrew Davies made that bit up) I absolutely LOVED this. I also love Jasper Fforde, so it wasn’t a hard sell. My favourite bit was when Amanda said to Mrs Bennet my god you’ve got balls. All in all very entertaining

  • Time

    Interesting, actually I thought it does suck and insult my intelligence. Amanda doesn’t strike me as a clever Austen reader either. How is it possible that she knows the book so well and yet doesn’t know how to behave?
    Self-sacrificing? Certainly not! The modern twist is in Amanda’s stealing Darcy.
    Amanda will be portrayed as great, and Lizzy will be downplayed, so that we would buy the story. How is it not insulting the audience?
    Apart from that, and the producers’ poor knowledge of Austen’s original and times, it sucks as a time travel story. One would expect much more creativity with the twist.

  • “How is it possible that she knows the book so well and yet doesn’t know how to behave?”
    I think the issue here is that when she’s screwing up at the beginning, she’s doing it because she understandably doesn’t believe she’s in a book – and it’s not clear yet whether she’s actually travelled in time or has entered a book (à la Fforde) at this stage.
    Later on, she’s just frustrated she can’t put things back on track. I don’t think that reading Austen will automatically mean you can speak in early 19th century English either. = I think no matter how good you are, as a casual yet dedicated reader, you aren’t likely to be able to do much in “Pride and Prejudice” without messing up because you’ve made an assumption that’s no longer valid or you don’t actually believe you’re inside a word of fiction.
    I read Patrick O’Brian books all the time, and there’s no way I’d be able to stick to any conventions of the time, speak using the same syntax or diction, or run a Royal Naval ship using that entire series of books as my guide, let alone just one. If Amanda had degrees in history and English literature, though, I’d cut her less slack.
    “Self-sacrificing?”
    I was talking about Elizabeth (who is the beloved heroine) in the novel, not Amanda. And so far, Amanda’s doing her best not to steal Darcy (can she steal the future husband of someone who hasn’t even met him yet?)
    “Amanda will be portrayed as great, and Lizzy will be downplayed, so that we would buy the story. How is it not insulting the audience?”
    That’s pre-judging, and I’d rather wait to see if that happens, rather than simply assume that’s what the producers will do. Elizabeth isn’t coming out of it well so far, but who knows what’ll happen in the next three episodes. If that does happen though, I would accept that as a big failing.
    So I do take your points, but I think I’m just more willing to give it a bit more room for manoeuvre.

  • Time

    I’m sorry for misreading you about Elizabeth!
    I didn’t expect Amanda would know exactly how to behave or speak, but she should know the basics from the book. One doesn’t address Miss Bingley ‘Caroline’. One doesn’t snog a gentleman during a ball. It’s inconsistent too, because minutes earlier she worried that Bingley wouldn’t end up with Jane. Snogging him is likely the last thing that might help.
    I did expect her to make many mistakes, but on a deeper level. So far she behaves like a person who doesn’t know any Regency books at all, while from an Austen lover, who can cite exact lines from the book (and not a person who just read it once), I’d expect some general knowledge about manners, and many mistakes in places where she can least foresee them. That would make it a clever story instead of a silly one.
    O’Brian wrote his books over 100 years after the Napoleonic era. It’s a matter of research. Something the ITV producers didn’t do well.
    Oh well, I read the synopses, and judging from the first episode they were accurate, so I don’t have much hopes. I wouldn’t expect to see much of Lizzy any soon either.
    My greatest quibble with the series is Amanda. I don’t like her. She’s pretty daft and vulgar. Bridget Jones was purposefully silly and we were supposed to laugh with and at her, but she wasn’t one of us. Here the producers want women to identify with Amanda, assuming that she’s what Austen readers are like, and that she’s fulfilling their dream for them. This is quite horrible. Austen created very clever characters. True, one can’t steal a man from a heroine who doesn’t yet know him, but the assumption that the hero (and everyone else) would have to fall for the first not very clever modern girl he meets, even though she lacks Lizzy’s charming manners and lively mind that made him fall for her in the first place, is pretty weak, and dumbs down the novel and its readers. It’s Cinderella, and not Pride and Prejudice.
    One could come with a more intelligent and less obvious plot, couldn’t one?

  • Ah now, Time, I’d have to disagree with you there. I took it that the reason she snogged Bingley was because the stress of the situation meant she got pissed rather quickly and then she found she couldn’t help herself. Impulsive, stupid probably, but I dunno, I quite liked the gap in reality about how her imagined view of Jane Austen’s world didn’t match the reality of it, and that actually she didn’t really like it as much as she thought she would. And havent’ we all done stupid things when we’re drunk. Calling Miss Bingley Caroline was, I thought just a bit of revenge on Jane and Lizzie’s behalf – having been such a fan she couldn’t resist putting Caroline down. I could relate to that actually. But then, I could relate to the whole daft premise of this very easily. I didn’t mind the silliness of it at all and quite enjoyed going with the flow. I take your points but I really enjoyed it, and thought Hugh Bonneville and Alex Kingston were particularly good. I did like the way they have made Mrs Bennett a lot more ruthless and less stupid then in the book (but then I am a mother of four girls now, and sympathise with her far more then when I first read it!!)

  • Time

    Snogging strangers while drunk? Me? Never! I don’t think it happens often, does it? She wasn’t that drunk either.
    She calls Bingley ‘Charles’ too, so it’s not just a revenge. But the thing is that her manners are that of Caroline, rather than Lizzy, who would be able to set down her rival in a much prettier way.
    It’s one of the things that makes the story weak. Amanda just says that she doesn’t want to disturb it, while at the same time acts in the opposite way. She says that Jane should be with Bingley, and then snogs her man. She says that she doesn’t want Darcy, and then lies about him, provoking him to dance. She could’ve mentioned Lucas, couldn’t she? She sends Jane to Netherfield, and then follows her, so that she could end up there all in mud like Lizzy. Why? She read the book. She knows Jane will be fine. Surely she can’t expect not to disturb the story while throwing herself at the men all of the time.
    I did love their Mrs. Bennet! She’s a bit out of character, but she’s really good and very enjoyable! She has my full sympathy. I think that she should be young, so she’s the first actress that suits me. I’m not very pleased with their Mr. Bennet though. They made him too nice like for the horrible father and cruel husband he’s supposed to be. But then all of the adaptations make him nicer than Austen meant for him to be, so I can’t hold it against them in particular.

  • Stu

    I enjoyed it but three thoughtd kept drifting to the top of my brain throughout:
    (1) It’s a virtual remake of Pleasantville, but isn’t brave enough (yet) to dig into the themes related to how sex was dealt with in ‘simpler’ times.
    (2) It’s desperately trying to follow the Pride & Prejudice story. How much more exciting for everything to fall apart up front and then spend four episodes traversing the world if not the plot.
    (3) The more interesting story is Lizzy Bennett in the Naughties, making the most of the free lifestyle, a feminist version of Adam Adamant.
    Presumably in the US remake, the modern character will be from Austin, Texas.

  • 1) Well, wait and see and all that – Wickham’s just round the corner, remember. Plus as great as Pleasantville was, it was really just showing how vital the 60s was to American culture after the repressive 50s. What’s the next step for the Bennets? First-wave feminism isn’t even round the corner yet and unless Lizzie manages to enliven everyone in P&P, the Bennet girls are just going to get a name for themselves and all end up like Lydia with Wickhams of their own.
    2) I’m not sure how appealing that show would be – just take all of P&P’s characters then effectively write a new book. No matter how good you are, it’s never going to be as good, plus would the audience be there for it?
    3) I did read in the publicity blurb (I think – I might have imagined it) that Lizzie’s adventures in the present will get covered at some point.

  • “Snogging strangers while drunk? Me? Never! I don’t think it happens often, does it? She wasn’t that drunk either.”
    Oh yes it does. A huge amount. I’d go to Maidstone or Wind Street in Swansea on a Friday or Saturday if you want some proof, if I were you. Snogging is the least of it.
    Besides, she’s just turned down a marriage proposal from her rubbish boyfriend and might be feeling a bit lost, homesick and depressed, so a cheery snog while a bit tipsy (and I don’t know the alcohol content of early 19th century punch. And neither does she, so who knows what degree of placebo effect we’re talking about as well) with someone who’s probably just a dream, a Temazepam/magic mushroom hallucination or the result of paranoid schizophrenia isn’t something to be completely condemned.
    Ultimately, Lost in Austen is a bit of chick lit/rom com; it’s not Stanislav Lem, it’s Mark Twain. It’s not supposed to be rigourously analysable.
    Seriously, if you suddenly saw Elizabeth Bennet, she told you to go through a door in the wall and you ended up inside a book (or a TV adaptation of a book that’s not quite authentic), at what point would you really accept it as reality?
    I doubt I ever would. I’d be suspecting, the whole time, that I was just mad, concussed or dead. I doubt that I’d ever take what was happening so seriously that I thought to myself, “Oh my God, I can’t do anything at all, because I’ll completely mess up the book and when I leave, this work of classic fiction is going to be a pale shadow of its former self and revolve around me instead of the real heroine.” That would be a clear sign of madness.
    So I do actually think the fact that Amanda’s not really trying her hardest not to mess things up, act badly or go in for a bit of wish fulfilment isn’t a failing in the writing. It’s what you’d probably do if you ended up in her situation – make a brave stab at getting into the spirit of things, but not hide yourself under a rock in case of disaster.

  • Ah now that’s what I was going to say, Rob, but you said it better! General consensus among my romantic novel writing chums (many of whom write regencies) seems to be positive. I think like Mamma Mia! this is light frothy fun, not to be taken too seriously. I quite liked the fact that Darcy was a disappointment, both to her and us. And I think the twist on Mrs Bennett’s character was great (plus being a good use of Alex Kingston). I never thought from the book Mr Bennet was cruel, just rather lazy and not prepared to take control of his family enough. The last version I saw with Michael Gambon in you got a real sense of how he’d let his family down, but he’s nowhere near as bad as Emma’s incredibly selfish dad and Lizzie obviously loves him. Plus he does have some of the funniest lines in the book. I think Hugh Bonneville is doing a great job.
    I do hope they make Lizzie’s adventures in Hammersmith, because that could be a hoot.

  • Just saw this today via YouTube, and it reminded me of older books than the Jasper Fforde series – “The Incompleat Enchanter” and “The Incredible Umbrella”, as well as a very funny short story by Woody Allen in which the main character ended up entangled in the world of Madame Bovary.
    Stu’s comment about an American remake caught my eye. Like “Life On Mars”, this could be a property that might appeal to producers here in the USA. But I think there’d be a major revision in picking exactly what literary world might be chosen. As popular as the adaptations of Austen may have been here at the movies and on TV, I’m not sure the audience could relate to such an avid reader of her work, or a show set exclusively in that milieu. But I can’t think off-hand of any other author that might better fit an American version. (At least, not without changing the gender of the main character.)
    Actually, if I was making a show loosely based on this concept, I’d have the main character bouncing from one literary world to another after a few episodes or so. ‘Huckleberry Finn’ one week, Sherlockiana the next….
    Just an idea!

  • I’d notarise it now, or ABC will have it off you for free before you can say “secret internal memo”.

  • Nah, I throw lots of ideas out there for the taking, and so far none of them have been picked up. But they’re welcome to it. Besides, this time there’s a better chance this way that ABC will grab it, since I put it in a “foreign” blog. I don’t think they’re looking to steal anything “home-grown”.

  • Time

    Rob: “Oh yes it does. A huge amount. I’d go to Maidstone or Wind Street in Swansea on a Friday or Saturday if you want some proof, if I were you. Snogging is the least of it.”
    I should have narrowed my question. I do believe it happens to Lydia-like characters very often, just not to Lizzy-like ones that Amanda is supposed to be. If I’m ever in the UK I’ll take your advice. 😉
    “Ultimately, Lost in Austen is a bit of chick lit/rom com; it’s not Stanislav Lem, it’s Mark Twain. It’s not supposed to be rigourously analysable.”
    Hmm, that might explain my problem since I have one thing inherently in common with Stanislaw Lem. The series isn’t even loosely analysable though.
    “Seriously, if you suddenly saw Elizabeth Bennet, she told you to go through a door in the wall and you ended up inside a book (or a TV adaptation of a book that’s not quite authentic), at what point would you really accept it as reality?
    I doubt I ever would.”
    I had to laugh at that! Sure you wouldn’t, nor would I since, as you noticed, I tend to overanalyse everything, but Amanda is free from any consistent thought, so now you’re applying to her more analysing than she’s capable of.
    Jane: “I quite liked the fact that Darcy was a disappointment, both to her and us.”
    Darcy wasn’t a disappointment to me. He’s not attractive, but I like the way he behaves so far. I don’t understand what Amanda holds against him though.
    “I never thought from the book Mr Bennet was cruel, just rather lazy and not prepared to take control of his family enough. The last version I saw with Michael Gambon in you got a real sense of how he’d let his family down, but he’s nowhere near as bad as Emma’s incredibly selfish dad and Lizzie obviously loves him.”
    If my husband was setting up traps on me so that he could deride me in front of my children I’d think him plain cruel. Lizzy loved all of her family, but she obviously changed her mind about her father after reading Darcy’s letter.
    Have you all seen the second episode?

  • MediumRob

    Yes. First half was dreadful, but the second half was a lot better.

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  • Kaye

    well i watched it for the first time today on prime time (unfortunate here that we always get things so late).
    the first episode, although may have had the cinderella expectation everyone may have wanted. it failed to deliver. the shoe didn’t fit right.
    and as the series went on, it got worse and worse for me. it was too predictable and as someone pointed out, an avid fan knows the ins and outs of austen novels and the context of which they were written in, so they would know if they were ever to be stuck in the book (which happens to be their fave) they would know what to do. replacing the heroine with someone who stumbles around without a clue is insulting to anyone calling themselves a fan and far worst for anyone promoting this as a good series. the plot was weak, and to mix the characters and the tale of a much beloved book with a “reality tv show type” plot is an indication that television no longer airs good shows.
    one more thing… people should stop doing adaptions when they know that one has been made that cannot be beat. i still believe that colin firth is the only mr darcy and jennifer ehle is the only actress that has done the character of lizzy with the justice it deserves, not even keira knightly who got an oscar nod for reprising the role…
    the twist was forthcoming… and that says alot… there were no surprises.

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