Thursday, 9 January 2014

Costume Drama Review #2 - Lost in Austen

If anyone read my last review and wondered what it might take to satisfy me, here is my answer: Lost in Austen. My review of Death Comes to Pemberley was really more of a rant, and this is to be more of a rave.

In short, the creators of this show got it. They got what we wanted, we the fans, we the masses, we the people. They got it and then they delivered it. Lost in Austen delivers.

And what do we want? We want to find a door in our bathroom that we can walk through into Longbourn, ACTUAL Longbourn, full of the ACTUAL characters that Jane Austen created. We want romance balanced with scathing wit and ridiculous people. We want the sights and smells of history. We want escapism we can sink our snobby, desperate, anglophile teeth into.

For some time, I was considering writing a book, or possibly a series, about a girl who discovers a secret door into Jane Austen's world. I thought I was the first to come up with this idea, like the time my brother thought he had invented a high-speed rescue boat, but it turned out it had already been invented and was called a rocket ship. Well, now I can cross that off my to-do list, because not only has it been done, it has been done properly.

Does every point of this show stand up to scrutiny? No, definitely not, but I just don't care. And why don't I care? Am I not a discerning and critical purist? Of course I am. But the spirit of this production was one of fun, of frolicking and of fantasy, and most of all it was funny. And the liberties which the writers took worked internally. They added to the suspense and to the comedy, which was the point.

I do not understand how the humour is so often missed in Austen adaptations. The books are very funny. You are supposed to enjoy the process of reading them. You are supposed to laugh at the characters. And I laughed out loud, shrieking, thrilling, shocking laughter, throughout the whole of Lost in Austen.

"She is the best possible nurse. She has paracetamols!"

But the show wasn't silly. It wasn't slapstick or exaggeration. It was good drama. Even though it was about six hours long, I kept having to put on the next episode, just like Pride and Prejudice. I had to know what was going to happen.

The casting was excellent, even Mr. Darcy. I have seen this actor in other roles, and didn't particularly like him, but the Darcy role suited him so well, I didn't notice.

Some people have told me they didn't think Jane was pretty enough, but I did. I thought she was lovely.

I did notice that the actress who played Elizabeth was possibly prettier, which is not how it should be, but then, she did have those fine eyes.

 As I have said, not everything stood up to scrutiny. To prove that I am not blind or undiscerning, I shall briefly review the things that cannot really be reconciled with the novel. Note that this part may contain some spoilers.

Firstly, the character of Lady Catherine was too shrewd, more cunning than blustering and proud.

And the character of Mr. Collins was more disgusting than ridiculous, but only a little. He does, after all, have the good fortune to shoot a peacock.

The twist involving Mr. Wickham I found highly amusing, and therefore I forgive the fact that it is impossible. His debts, his lies, his running away with Lydia, his slander of Darcy, none of these accord with his being a secret good guy.

And the concern for Jane when she goes off to Netherfield on horseback is, of course, unfounded, since we know from the book that she survives her cold, so the cliffhanger didn't really leave me in any apprehension.

And Charlotte Lucas is not supposed to be so depressed, I don't think. She comes across in the book as much more pragmatic and steady. She claims, in the book, not to be romantic, but I do think you have to be a little of a romantic persuasion to run away to Africa in despair.

Caroline turning out to "steer the punt from the Cambridge end," however, I found perfectly plausible. At least, there is nothing in the text that would forbid it.

It was never explained why Amanda Price was chosen to be transported into the book. There was no assertion made that she was somehow the most deserving, which would have bothered me if it had been, because she obviously wasn't. But she wasn't supposed to be special, and that was what made the comedy work. If she had known more about Regency England, had she been more like me or some of the hard-core fans I know, it wouldn't have been as funny. There wouldn't have been as much contrast to create the drama. Yes, she was a bit annoying at times, but so people generally are. Even Jane Austen's heroines can be a bit annoying some times.

And none of these little inconsistencies mattered or detracted from the whole because the writing was so good. I think that is the primary reason I could enjoy it, even though the purist in me knew a few things were amiss. The dialogue was brilliant, which is what matters to most fans, or at least to me. There were no awful intrusions of modernity that did not come through Amanda Price. The language was accurate for the time, at least enough so to satisfy me, and I am always quick to criticise on that front.

No doubt there will be some very dry intellectual types who will say that it was all too silly, and try to pretend Jane Austen was somehow one of the Bronte sisters, or that her work is somehow sacred and we cannot have some fun with it, but I say fiddlesticks. A bit of fun is what it is all about.

Melanie Kerr is the author of  Follies Past: a Prequel to Pride and Prejudice


  1. I am looking forward to watching this, I did not know about it until reading your blog. Do you know where one could get it?

    1. I thought I replied to this already, but no reply is showing up here. I would suggest trying your local video store, if you have one. It used to be on Canadian Netflix. It might still be on American or British Netflix. Otherwise, you're down to illegal downloading or ordering the DVDs from Amazon.