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Same story. Different centuries.
Amanda Price (Jemima Rooper, The Black Dahlia) is your typical twenty-something Londoner. She works at a bank, has a somewhat loutish boyfriend, and bickers with her mother over her marriage options. Amanda also has a deep, abiding love for the works of author Jane Austen. Amanda laments the lack of manners and dignity found in the works of her favorite author, never more so than when said boyfriend proposes and then immediately passes out on her couch.
So when Elizabeth Bennet (Gemma Arterton, Quantum of Solace), the heroine from the Austen novel Pride and Prejudice, suddenly appears in her flat's bathroom one evening, Amanda is more pleased than astonished. Somehow a door between the modern and literary world has opened and the pair quickly trade places. Amanda finds herself in an England of nearly two centuries ago, acting and speaking in a manner that makes her worthy of some curiosity from the Bennet family.
A few problems immediately arise. While Amanda's hair and clothes are admired as the latest in summer fashion, the stylings of her nether regions require a bit more explanation ("It's called a landing strip!"). Despite her floundering, Amanda finds herself with a few advantages: her encyclopedia-like knowledge of Austen's narrative means she knows which Bennet sister is destined for which suitor, and which eligible bachelor is sincere and which is not. And while her verbal skills don't allow her to spar on equal ground with the women of the period, Amanda's freedom of thought and liberated manner means that she is able to act within a dimension not accessible to her new peers.
Austen fans will find themselves in friendly territory with Lost in Austen. All the characters from the beloved novel are in play, from Lady Ambrosia (the family pig) to the stuffy yet internally passionate Mr. Darcy, played with appropriate stoicism by Elliot Cowan (The Golden Compass). The majority of the events depicted in Pride and Prejudice are chronicled over the course of the film, albeit not necessarily in the same capacity (or with the same immediate results) as in the novel.
Writer Guy Andrews (Paparazzo) and director Dan Zeff (Black Eyes) set the proper tone for the film from its earliest moments. Amanda immediately accepts her new reality; there are no clichéd episodes where she tries to convince herself she's just dreaming or faints away with the sudden understanding of her situation. Rather, her motivation to restore the course of the novel are what drives Amanda's actions. So deep is Amanda's love and appreciation for Austen's work that her own needs are ignored in pursuit of making things right. This makes Amanda a sympathetic character that the audience can root for as she attempts to unravel the knots she has tied in the novel's narrative.
Lost in Austen wisely develops its tension not through ridiculous Three's Company-style misunderstandings but from Amanda's inability to anticipate how her actions will be received by those around her. When, in an attempt to direct his attention to Jane Bennet, Amanda tells the suitor Mr. Bingly (Tom Mison, Heroes and Villains) that she is attracted to women, Bingly is more stunned to learn that lesbians exist at all, never mind if Amanda herself is one or not. When receiving a tongue-lashing from Bingly's scheming and haughty sister, the language is so archaic and indecipherable to Amanda that she inadvertently frustrates her opponent by missing the point of the barbs entirely.
The acting is superb throughout the film. Jemima Rooper captures Amanda's mix of wonderment, shock, and disbelief while giving her a sassy edge and level head. The patriarch of the Bennet clan (Hugh Bonneville, Notting Hill) dryly executes stabs of wit at his frantic wife and unsettled daughters while acting as the sympathetic central figure of the family. The only misstep is in the casting of Elizabeth Bennet, only because the actress looks so much like Amanda that for a few moments I thought it might have been a dual role.
Lost in Austen was originally broadcast as four individual chapters on British television; the segments have been assembled into one lengthy episode for this release. This is a check disc, meaning that the final video image may not be as it appears in this release. However, the image included here is very good, the widescreen print appearing free of defects and providing deep blacks and bright outdoor scenes. The audio is a solid Dolby Digital two-channel mix that captures dialogue in scenes both quiet and boisterous without issue (the full release will feature a 5.1 surround track).
No extras are included in the check disc. The packaging suggests that some behind-the-scenes footage will be available with the final product.
Lost in Austen will prove more than satisfactory to both Austen fans and those looking for a light-hearted romantic romp with a twist. It's a charming way to spend time, when you don't feel like curling up with one of Austen's own books.
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