Lost in Austen – the (US?) DVD

Bowing to much publicity – even Persuasions had a rave ‘review’ of the series (why does a peer-reviewed journal run what amounts to an advert?) – I Netflixed LOST IN AUSTEN. Spoilers may come up, so tread carefully as you wade ahead; but I cannot give the end away, as I’ve not seen it yet!

Behind the scenes: readers might appreciate this link to the ITV website for the series.

lostWatching the DVD last night – and under the *impression* that a multi-part TV show, it would be multi-episodes on DVD – I was of two minds about whether to post something today, or nothing. Dare I say, I am underwhelmed?? But that is why I decided indeed TO POST something about LiA.

A little backstory: My Netflix account had been on hold a couple of months, but was due to restart at the end of May. I almost put it on ‘vacation’ another couple of months, but decided to put Lost in Austen in my queue and let its hiatus expire. Why? Because I had YouTubed the show and its beginning charmed me. Poor Amanda Price (very Mansfield Park-ish name), with that dolt of a boyfriend! And then she finds Lizzy Bennet in her bathtub, assuming her named ‘Miss Spencer’ because Amanda’s undies were Marks & Sparks’ finest! I love anything British, anyway, and actress Jemima Rooper was calling to me to watch. So I rented it.

The surprises: According to IMDB (The Internet Movie Database – a must website for films!), LiA was a four-part UK series, comprised of 60-minute (with commercials, of course) episodes. The DVD lists the running time as 2 hours 57 minutes. Fair enough one might say, BUT: How is it Laurie Kaplan can write of Amanda’s rendition of the Pet Clark hit Downtown and all DVD’ers get is Bingley saying, ‘Brava, Miss Price! And whenever life is gettin’ me down, I shall be sure to go downtown.’ Amanda is asked to sing, has sung, but never actually SINGS! So that leads to the damning questions I cannot answer: WHAT ELSE HAS BEEN CUT? And: ARE THESE CUTS ONLY DONE TO THE U.S. DVD?

Grrr….

There is talk of the family pig — an in-joke for those who’ve seen the Joe Wright (2005) film; but you never SEE the pig: I have a feeling she, too, ended up on the ‘cutting room floor’. (She made the opening credits!)

lost2Therefore, I have to wonder: does this choppy version account for my lukewarm reception?? It’s amusing — highly; yet, somewhat one-note. How many times do we we need Amanda saying ‘No! the book doesn’t go this way,’ as she does her best Emma Woodhouse impression, and tries to get couples to line up ‘properly’?

Of course one half of the prime couple is missing: Elizabeth Bennet, who instigated this ‘exchange’ (Amanda in 19th Century Meryton; Lizzy in 21st Century Hammersmith), is obviously enjoying herself and not willing to come home! The only thing seen of her is a note slipping itself under the communicating door — addressed to her father. (Amanda had been beating on the door, oh on a good three different occasions, by the time this ‘small’ communication comes about…) How many times, also then, do we need Amanda trying to raise Lizzy from the ‘other side’?

Maybe with four episodes the ‘sameness’ wasn’t quite as noticeable?

Anyway, I kept waiting for episode one to end, when I finally stopped the disk and looked at the menu for accessing the film: all one ‘seamless’ episode here… Usually you can guess — by the crescendo of action or a cliff-hanger — where an episode ends. The lack of such a thing might account for the flatness I am experiencing here.

My favorite scene so far? When Amanda grabs Bingley (already enamored with her) and plants a kiss smack on the lips! The doe-eyes of actor Tom Mison play well in this ‘sweet’ role. He looks like someone who would carry a crush. But two things about that turn of events: (1) EVERY male falls for Amanda (Bingley, Darcy, Wickham, Collins); and (2) Amanda rails at the thought of the plot of P&P NOT following its destined route, yet does she ever say to herself ‘My very presence is what is upsetting the plotline…’?? The first is just a tired old ploy; and the second would make for more entertaining entertainment than the constant moaning about characters acting out of character!

That brings me to a point I thought of this afternoon, at lunch. Not having read the book upon which the series is based, I cannot comment as to what was or wasn’t changed for the screen, but how wonderful to have had Lizzy SHOWING Amanda around?! Amanda confesses, early on, that it isn’t Darcy she loves, it’s Elizabeth. So who wouldn’t love to hang out with your favorite character and learn all the ropes from her??

The series misses the mark when Amanda causes consternation when her arrival finds her dressed in ‘breaches’, yet no one is REALLY that bothered by her costume! And she never has anything but the perfect hair she arrived with, despite putting on some 19th century dresses. Surely, Amanda should have gone ‘whole hog’ in adapting to her new place. She could have been Eliza Doolittle, and slipped back into her old persona once in a while, had she adopted any new persona to begin with. And it would have been great fun to have Jane (who gets ‘flashed’ early on in their acquaintance) remark on Amanda’s queer underthings; or lack of them, perhaps, since Bingley clearly gets an eye-full when Amanda curtseys on meeting him. Yet the Bennets (sans Mamma) are ‘charmed’ by her unusual qualities and queer manners of speech, rather than puzzled by them (as surely anyone in ‘real’ life would be).

And that could have led to a natural sequel, with Amanda, in turn, hosting Lizzy in Hammersmith! (A bit of Time After Time, with H.G. Wells in 20th Century LA, though, huh?) I have a feeling that series could not have ended the way this show probably ends…

Nice to see Perdita Weeks; she looks so much like her sister! Poor Hugh Bonneville just moans about wanting to read – an action I can well understand, but the part must have (so far!) somewhat bored him as an actor. I like that Mrs Bennet (Alex Kingston) doesn’t grate on the nerves as some shrill Mrs Bennets do, but I’m on the fence about her seeming ‘of the period’. Loved it when she tells Amanda to ‘back off’ — for Mamma Bennet realizes before anyone else that Amanda is stealing the thunder from the Bennet girls! Mr Collins (Guy Henry) is so odious and Charlotte Lucas (Michelle Duncan) so non-existant, that even I cringe at the thought of them marrying (should Amanda manage to get the storyline straightened out…).

[BTW, I am QUITE convinced that people misjudge Mr Collins — and base their thoughts of him on the 1995 P&P; and am always on the lookout for contemporary to Austen thoughts on this character — post to the blog, or email me, should you come across any such things!]

I had to laugh — but for a totally different reason than intended — when Amanda pulls from her bosom area a packet of paracetamol tablets. Now why on earth would she just happen to keep aspirin — and in her bra??? She also evidently has been known to secret her ‘lippie’ there too. Is her bra ‘bottomless,’ like Mary Poppins’ carpet bag!??

LiA reminds me, in retrospect, of The Devil Wore Prada; a pleasant film – but would have been much better (in my humble opinion) if it had been EXCEPTIONALLY hilarious, or QUITE serious in its treatment. The region of ‘cutesy’ just doesn’t cut it. Therefore: I expected more…, wanted more, and was left wanting more.

So, while I’m wondering about the trimming question [see PSs below], and waiting a day or two to finish the show, I’d appreciate thoughts on the series from anyone who’s seen it, wants to see, or wants never to see it. Ditto for those who’ve read the book. In the meantime, you can also read Kate from Norfolk’s reactions to the series when it ran on TV in the UK.

A couple PSs: while the US Amazon.com has it running 180 minutes, the UK Amazon says their DVD is 178 minutes. Hmmm…
And, according to the TRIVIA at IMDB, the pig was scheduled to appear – but hoof and mouth caused her film debut to be cancelled.
Here’s the ‘missing’ Downtown on YouTube. Surely an ‘Austen fan’ would have put a Marianne Dashwood spin on her rendition of this 1960s song, rather than singing its melody straight and in tempo?? And WHY would the producers (or whomever) THINK that 20-somethings would even know the song? so why bother leave in Bingley’s line??

Hot off the Press!

persuasions-cover30Yesterday, a FedEx box left on my stoop prior to lunch yielded up a BIG surprise: my contributor’s copies of JASNA’s annual journal PERSUASIONS, vol. 30 (2008). A brief email to Susan Allen Ford, the journal editor, to congratulate her on an ‘awesome’ volume, was answered by an email which said she hadn’t received her copies yet! Vermont’s good fortune (and mine) to be located next door to New Hampshire — from where the packages seem to have originated…

The first article I read was Edith Lank‘s telling of her annotated Brabourne edition of Austen letters. One curious thing: how could the books languish EIGHT years on her shelves, unopened?! A used book never passes my threshold without a thorough perusal! There is more on Miss Lank’s edition in Persuasions-Online.

Joan Klingel Ray offers up an interesting look at Victorian era perceptions of Austen, though I must comment that to Edward — a nephew who was in his late teens when his aunt died — Jane would surely have remained, over the 50 ensuing years, his “dear Aunt Jane”. Joan and I take differently, I think, to James-Edward Austen-Leigh’s Memoir of Jane Austen. Joan knows the descendents; but I’ve come to know Edward and Emma through their own words! So: a discussion to look forward to when Joan Klingel Ray visits Vermont in September (see our EVENTS page).

I would be telling a lie if I didn’t confess that the very first article I checked out was my own… Oh, the pictures look lovely! (They come via the collection of The British Museum.) I had been so worried after seeing the proofs. Susan Allen Ford has been very positive in her reaction (the anonymous reader, too) to this article, in which I examine an Emma Austen 1833 trip to Derbyshire in the steps of Elizabeth Bennet. The article was only improved by their wishes for a lengthier piece and some illustrations.

The Chicago AGM’s theme of Austen’s legacy brings up many fascinating ideas: Jocelyn Harris invokes Dr. Johnson; Deb will surely be interested in turning straightaway to Janine Barchas‘ article on Gaskell’s North & South (Deb highly recommends the new TV series, which she’s been watching) — but what will she think of the author’s assumption that it is a veiled recreation of P&P??? Sarah Parry‘s article on “The Pemberley Effect: Austen’s Legacy to the Historic House Industry” is surely next on my list.

A special ‘legacy’: the writing desk that once belonged to Austen, has been in the family, and now has been donated to The British Library. Freydis Welland‘s personal take on this piece of history opens the always pleasurable MISCELLANY section of Persuasions. Although I’ve not seen Lost in Austen, Laurie Kaplan‘s article which closes the journal has the oh-so-tempting title “‘Completely without Sense’: Lost in Austen“.

More comments than this — teasing tantalizers or tantalizing teasers, since the journal (according to the JASNA website) is schedule to mail out on May 1st — will have to wait. The one thing that keeps me from delving deep into my copy is an article I’m working on, and I must get back to work.