Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Janespotting: Lost in Austen

I had heard inklings about this 2008 British TV miniseries—someone commented about it on an earlier Janespotting post, and I recently read that director Sam Mendes (American Beauty) is producing a film version of it—so I thought I would keep on the lookout for it. The premise sounded fairly intriguing: a modern Austen fan somehow exchanges places with Elizabeth Bennet, right at the beginning of Pride and Prejudice. When I saw a marathon was airing on Ovation TV, I set the DVR and thought I'd watch the four hours over the next week or so.

Whoops. I started watching the first hour on a Sunday night, and got completely sucked in. The main character, Amanda Price, finds herself in the Bennett household and attempts to make the events of the book happen, even though Elizabeth is not there. Because of her modern dress and knack for saying or doing the wrong thing, everything gets messed up. By the end of the first episode, Bingley is infatuated with Amanda, not Jane; Jane ends up married to Mr. Collins; and Charlotte Lucas has left for Africa to become a missionary.

Well, I had to watch the second episode right away, and thought about starting the third, but decided I should get to bed before 11. I went to sleep wondering what would happen, and woke up thinking maybe I'd just watch a little bit. I managed to hold off—I had an assignment due that day—and watched just a little bit at lunch. I finished my assignment and was sucked back to the TV. I devoured episode three and had to leave episode four behind to go help teach TKD class, but all the while I was wondering how in the world they would resolve Amanda's dilemma: would she fix the storyline of the novel—messed up even more in episodes 2 & 3—or would she find a way to stay with Darcy? I wasn't sure which ending I wanted to see, but I was ultimately pleased with it once I got back home and forced the boys to let me finish watching. The DVD goes on sale in a week and I'll be snatching up my own copy.

Give credit to writer Guy Andrews, a longtime British TV screenwriter who will also be writing the film version: it's a wonderful concept, one that I'm sure many readers have imagined. What if I could live in the world of P&P? I bet I could be just like Elizabeth, and have Darcy fall in love with me. This series explores this idea to the hilt, complete with all sorts of anachronistic amusements; yet there are several poignant moments as well. The series somehow re-creates and reimagines Austen's world and characters (many have backstories to discover), at the same time it explores our fascination with it. While there were a few logical holes (for someone who gets thrown out of polite society so often, Amanda keeps getting invited back), I thought it was clever and funny and tender and just plain hard to stop watching; I loved it and I'm sure it will be in regular rotation with my favorite Austen-based DVDs in the future.

If you want a peek, take a look at the trailer here; be prepared, you may want to freeze it around the 1:20 mark, to enjoy the full "wet Darcy" effect.

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