Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Costume Drama Review - Austenland

Although, I suppose, it is not technically a costume drama per se, this film does take place almost entirely in costume, so to speak. And I do love costumes.

My thoughts on the film are brief. I thought it was cute. Sadly, I watched it by myself, but I still managed to enjoy it, and believed it would have been even funnier with friends with whom to laugh at the nonsense.

Essentially, I felt the film did what it set out to do, and that is the standard I hold for all films, so from that perspective it was a success. The humour was mostly of an awkward, cringing variety, but there were definitely moments when I laughed out loud. It was all a bit obvious, but for a silly romantic comedy, I take no objection to that.

Of course, it was silly. It was also impossible and not very profound or compelling, but it was also inoffensive (even to me and I am easily affronted by bad costume dramas pretending to be something they are not), occasionally clever and all-round entertaining, especially if you get all the references.

I will say (*Spoiler Alert*) that I totally saw the plot twist coming, although I must confess, they did make me double-guess myself. From the start, I thought the Martin character, the hired hand, was rather smarmy, that his lines seemed forced and unbelievable. I wondered whether he was in on the whole scheme. But I didn't trust myself because I suspected this to be simply the result of bad writing. I was very happy to discover that the writers actually intended it to be as contrived as it seemed.

Sadly, I cannot say that the actual love interest was as believable as the artificial one was unbelievable. The proposal that was meant to be real still had some of that fake quality that made me doubt the fake one. But who cares? He was handsome and he was wearing a cravate! No, I didn't swoon like I would have liked to. There wasn't enough depth in the characters, not enough invested in them for me to feel anything about the actual love story.  (*End Spoiler Alert*)

But that is all about the movie. It is kind of fun, and you might like it for a bit of a laugh, but don't expect too much. Now let us discuss the REAL issue, which is what deeply intrigued me about this film, namely the business plan!

Throughout the film, I was distracted by the actual premise of the plot, specifically, that there could be an Austenland, offering a complete period immersion experience, that people could spend a small fortune to go to, and that there would be a market for such vacation package.

Most of the LARPers I know are more into medieval stuff, and are nowhere near rich enough for this sort of extravagance. And I have never met a Jane Austen fan so hard core as to want to spend their life savings on such a holiday - and I have met a few hard-cores. There may be some very rich people, like the American woman in the film, who have excessive fortunes and just want to do something different, but where are these people? How does one find them, and sell them on a Regency experience?

You may know that for years I have been talking about a Jane Austen land, where everyone has to be in costume, and where are offered period entertainments, etc. When I heard about this film, about someone else having this same idea, a part of me screamed internally. Actually, one friend thought that there actually was an Austenland, didn't realize it was a movie, and sent me the link with glee. Sadly, there is no actual Austenland. If there were, it would have to look very different from the film in order towork. Let us compare, therefore, the resort in the film, and what I propose.

In the film, there are 3 guests. They never tell us how much it costs to go there, but it is no surprise that it uses up her entire life savings. I am surprised she could ever have enough to pay for it. A house full of staff, costumes, food, entertainment, hired actors, and all for what appears to be an entire summer? Among those who would actually want to go there, are there any who could afford this? Are there enough people to keep this going year after year? Of course not!

The kind of full, period immersion event could only really take place a couple of times a year at most, and only for a few days at a time. And it would require at least 20 guests to make it feasible. For a 3 night stay, including meals, costumes, entertainment and, of course accommodation, all in period style, would cost approximately $2,000 - $2,500 per person, with 20 people.

Food would all be catered based on recipes from the Georgian era. Costumes would be supplied by costumiers specializing in period film costumes. Accommodation would be in a beautiful historic house in the English countryside, and entertainments could include period crafts like embroidery and basket-weaving, cards, archery, horseback riding, and a private concert of popular Regency music. There would be a couple of actors to play handsome gentlemen, and of course, a ball, which would be open to the public to come, in costume, also.

This, for example, is a picture of the dining room in a house on the north Devon coast where such a gathering could take place. You could actually stay there, and eat at this table, with Mr. Darcy.

Venues are less expensive to rent in more remote locations, and so the cost could come down, or more could be made available if it were held, say, in Ireland, or the middle of nowhere in Norfolk. If it is somewhere more accessible, like Somerset or Sussex, it will cost more, or there will not be as many extras.

(This is a terrific one in Ireland, with lots of amazing interior, see below.)

In a more remote location, for example, we could afford to hire someone to pick people up in style, just like in the film. However, I should specify that I will not be setting anyone up with any handsome stable-boys or history professors.

(This is a beautiful house in Northumberland that would do very well. Don't you just want to run across that lawn in a muslin gown?)

But I can seriously make this happen with 20 people. If this interest you, please comment, or email me, or facebook message me, or tweet me. And do state any preferences as to time of year, duration of stay, programming, meals, etc.
I hope I have piqued your interest.


  1. This is something I would most definitely be interested in. I would think if a person was to travel that far for something like this it would have to be a 4 or 5 days if possible. You have absolutely piqued my interest.

    I have not seen Austenland but am looking forward to seeing it, I just need to find it.

    Also wanted to let you know that I really enjoyed your book.

    1. Thank you so much Tracy! It is tough to balance the cost of a longer stay with the exact issue you raise, of travelling so far to attend, and thinking you need to make it worthwhile. I expect anyone travelling from overseas would make it part of a longer trip. Finding enough people to pay $2500 for a 3-day weekend is a difficult enough challenge. Finding people to pay $5,000 for any sort of stay might prove impossible.