If you enjoyed Bridget Jones’s Diary, it is more than probable that you will find the new ITV British television series Lost in Austen excessively diverting. Lost in Austen aired in the UK in September and in Canada on the new Canadian channel Viva in November. As actor Hugh Bonneville, who plays Mr. Bennet, asserts, “rest assured, it’s a very affectionate tribute.” But the tribute is more to the modern fans of Pride and Prejudice than it is to Jane Austen or to her novel.
At the beginning of the four part series, our twenty-first century heroine Amanda Price (Jemima Rooper) declares “it is a truth generally acknowledged that we are all longing to escape.” In Amanda’s case, she wishes to evade her dead end job, her depressed mother, her dreary flat and her oafish boyfriend. Escape she does by obsessively re-reading Pride and Prejudice and by overdosing on the Colin Firth film. Just when it seems that Amanda’s life could not possibly become anymore unromantic and grim, she is offered the alternative of her dreams.
A time travel swap leaves Elizabeth Bennet (Gemma Arterton) in Amanda’s flat in Hammersmith and our thoroughly modern Amanda in the Bennets’ home at Longbourn where the Bennet family is all abuzz with the news that Netherfield Park is let at last. Amanda is delighted to meet all and sundry characters, but she finds that her twenty-first century social skills make her quite an oddity in Regency society. The amusing Mr. Bennet and kindly Jane Bennet (Morven Christie) befriend Amanda, but Charlotte Lucas (Michelle Duncan) proves a harder nut to crack. Mrs. Bennet (Alex Kingston) quickly concludes that their guest is no better than a cat among the pigeons, creating a great deal of mischief and doing absolutely no good, and then the game is afoot.
When the plot of Pride and Prejudice begins to go all wrong, Amanda’s well intended but bumbling attempts to keep the characters on track provide unpredictable twists and turns. Amanda soon comes to realize that Regency life wasn’t all balls and carriage rides and taking a few turns round the garden, and there was no shortage of oafs and depressing mothers. Mr. Collins (Guy Henry), Miss Bingley (Christina Cole) and Lady Catherine (Lindsay Duncan) are just as loathsome and repugnant as in the novel, but they all have surprises up their sleeves. Meanwhile, George Wickham (Tom Riley) and Mr. Bingley (Tom Mison) prove unpredictable if not baffling. The real estate is, however, a vast improvement on modern, urban sprawl, and then there is Mr. Darcy (Elliot Cowan).
So there you have it. Lost in Austen is available on DVD in Britain, but only in region 2 format, meaning that it will not play on most DVD players in the United States which are programmed for region 1. When will Lost in Austen appear on television in the States or on DVD in the stores? Stay tuned.
Sheryl Craig is a respected authority on Jane Austen. A sought after speaker on several continents, she is currently an Instructor at the University of Central Missouri while pursuing a PhD at the University of Kansas.