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?


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??

Location, Location…for Austen & Bronte

East Riddlesden Hall in Keighley, West Yorkshire was the setting for Lost in Austen, its 17th-century  interior updated for Regency era style.  The house will also be the setting for the upcoming TV-remake of Wuthering Heights, to be broadcast in early 2009.  Click here for an article on the house.

For information on the Bronte production, click here for IMDV.  There is also yet another  screen version on tap (or sort-of) … see the Bronte Blog for the latest news of this not-quite-happening-yet production.

Random Thoughts on Lost in Austen

A friend, Kate in Norfolk (England), has been telling about Lost in Austen. She is such a witty and charming letter writer! Kate now allows us to post her comments. A few small spoilers might get mentioned along the way, so be warned:

Date: Thu, 4 Sep 2008
We have a new TV series here – Lost in Austen. Recorded the first part last night but haven’t seen it yet. The clips look lovely. It is something to do with a modern girl being transported back in time in a fictional way and living with the Bennets. I will report more in due course. Costumes etc. looked good.

Date: Wed, 10 Sep 2008
You must tell them about our new TV series. I have seen the first episode now. It is quite fun as obviously the heroine is a 21st century girl and so there is the fish-out-of-water amusement. I am enjoying Mr Bennet played by Hugh Bonneville. He just seems mildly perplexed by all the women around him but largely ignores them. He also winds them up whenever possible! Mrs Bennet has been treated in a very interesting way. She is like a mad chicken. However, it becomes clear that the 21st century girl has caught Mr Bingley’s eye and she is incandescent with rage that her daughters have been bypassed. She takes the girl aside at one point and is really vicious, practically threatens her with violence if she doesn’t stand aside! The viewer would turn against her at this point I think, I was quite shocked at this display. However, this does open up some interesting considerations. Mr Bennet – does he care that once he is dead and gone his daughters will suffer financially etc. He seems determined to have a peaceful life and ignore what will happen after his death because then it won’t affect him….is he inherently selfish? Does he have his head in the sand? Does this mean that Mrs Bennet has had to take onto her shoulders all the worries about the future and her daughters’ happiness? So is she then a rather good mother doing her best for her family? She certainly seems driven by desperation, and events later in the book confirm this I think. What the TV show will do I can’t say! Elizabeth is stuck in the 21st century but we have seen nothing of her yet – maybe tonight’s episode…

Date: Sat 13 Sep 2008
I do agree that if you label anything with Jane Austen it will sell! That is why we have our strange time travelling Lost in Austen I guess. I have seen the second part now and we still don’t know how Elizabeth Bennet is managing in modern times. I am still undecided about the whole thing. Modern Heroine borrows clothes when she goes to balls but doesn’t put her hair up – there is no way she would have got away with that. There is a lot of suspension of belief necessary! Now Jane has married Mr Collins despite Modern Heroine having previously engaged herself to him in order to try and protect the Bennet girls. Modern heroine is extremely annoyed that the plot of P&P is not being adhered to and when she sees Bingley at the church looking on in horror as the wedding takes place she marches up to him and remonstrates with him for listening to Darcy’s reservations about the Bennets. She says:
“Badly done, Bingley, badly done”! So that amused me as I wondered how many viewers would recognise it!
Must stop telling you the plot in case you get to see it one day. Didn’t know it was based on a book – will have to investigate. I do have to say that Mr Darcy has smouldered in a very successful way!

Date: Mon 15 Sep 2008
Well, please feel free to use my Lost in Austen comments as you see fit! It is going down quite well over here. The acting is generally very good. I do like little Mary Bennet, they have made her almost a caricature with specs and a little plain face but she looks really sweet to me. Modern Heroine has already told Wickham that she knows all about him so he has spread gossip everywhere to the effect that her father is a fishmonger! People are rapidly backing away and making fishy comments! She keeps going back to the attic where there is a (firmly locked) “door” to her world, where Elizabeth is. She calls through to Elizabeth who fails to answer – “It’s all going tits up, Elizabeth” she yells. And she has kneed Mr Collins in the balls at a ball. It is almost as if you are reading the book and when you hate the very idea of Mr Collins, Modern Heroine assaults him for you! My mother is not yet convinced that the concept works.

Date: Thurs 18 Sep 2008
I have another Lost in Austen to watch and admit I am now hooked. The conversation is quite witty:
Modern Heroine upon sighting Wickham: “Oh No! You keep away from me Wickham, I know you”.
Wickham, perplexed: “But, Madam, I haven’t had the pleasure…”
Modern Heroine stomping off: “Get used to that”.
I think the series will bear a second watch because sometimes the conversation is fast and whilst chuckling at early chatter, later witticisms can be missed. I am now wondering whether they can do this for other novels! Imagine the Modern Heroine telling Marianne to buck up or advising Emma to stop interfering!

Date: Fri 19 Sep 2008
Yes, please do what you like with the Lost in Austen comments – I am quite happy for you put them on the blog. Apparently the viewing figures have fallen off possibly because the series doesn’t work if you don’t know P&P quite well. You need to know why Modern Heroine is unfriendly to Wickham and warns Lydia to stay away for instance. Best scene this episode is the meeting with Lady Catherine who instructs her daughter to sit next to Modern Heroine at dinner as it will do her good to learn to converse with those with whom she has nothing in common. Such strange plots twists now (Wickham didn’t seduce Darcy’s sister, twas the other way round!) that I can only assume it will all turn out to have been a dream in a shower a la Dallas. Which could make sense actually as the “time travel” occurred in Modern Heroine’s bathroom which is where we last saw Elizabeth. I am very happy with the casting of this series by the way. Jane could be a bit prettier but she is very delicate looking and has big frightened eyes (tho as she is now married to hideous Collins that is understandable; incidentally, he is on a celibacy kick (thank goodness) so she is as yet untouched so obviously there will be a plot device to send her into Bingley’s arms). Mr and Mrs B are great – Mr B very funny. Mary and Kitty moan that they are not in society like their Mother and Lydia and Mr B says that those two are quite enough for society has enough to cope with at the moment. Darcy, at first, seemed a bit odd, but have grown to like him (where have I heard that before!) – quite handsome. Mr Collins is foul so that works well! Miss Bingley is very snooty and conniving but in quite a witty and intelligent way. They all have such marvellous conversation and condescension.

More to come, as the series continues and concludes. Thanks, Kate!

BTW: here’s the Internet Movie Database link; ITV’s link; and author Emma Campbell Webster‘s page at Penguin.US and her own website.

Web Round-up…all things Austen

Another tour through cyberspace generated some great tidbits this week…..let me hear from you on any of YOUR Austen finds out there!.

  • Found a wonderful blog called Factual Imaginingswhich “consolidates information, both new and old, concerning film adaptations of English History and Literature”…. lots of information on Austen related films, Thomas Hardy’s Tess, and even the upcoming 2009 celebration of the 500-year anniversary of Henry VIII’s coronation.  Click here for the link to the blog’s review of Lost in Austen and another on the history of  the Royal Crescent in Bath.  This is a site I shall be visiting often!
  • The BBC’s Radio 4 broadcasts of “Book at Bedtime” are available online for seven days after airing.  Listen this week of Sept 8 – 14 to Someone at a Distance, a story by Dorothy Whipple; book is available from Persephone Books:  get on their mailing list immediately if you are not already [I LOVE their books!…if any of you are looking for a book list to work on, start here!]
Persephone Books reprints forgotten classics by twentieth-century (mostly women) writers. Each one in our collection of seventy-eight books is intelligent, thought-provoking and beautifully written, and most are ideal presents or a good choice for reading groups.
  •  I may be perhaps the only Janeite out there who has not been watching Lost in Austen (we in the US can see it on YouTube), but there is enough chat about it to keep you busy for a while…Professor Kathryn Sutherland reviewed the show in this Guardian article; see also these posts at Austenblog; Austenprose; and Jane Austen Today (there are a few posts here), for just starters! I will put in my 2 cents after I have had a chance to see it… and any reviews from any of you would be appreciated!
  •  The Art of Manliness (!) site has a wonderful post on the Gentleman’s Guide to the Calling Card.  See also a few posts by Ms. Place at Jane Austen’s World on this topic…. Calling Cards in S&S and Persuasion; the Etiquette of using calling cards; and her most recent, The Etiquette of using calling cards 100 years after Austen.
  • Jane Austen is now the biggest industry in Britain…see this article at NewsBiscuit.  You need to read through the whole article, as it is quite outrageous (oh! what would Jane think!)
  • And speaking of Britain, If you happen to be hanging around Bury St. Edmunds, visit their Georgian Gem festival that runs through Sept. 21.  There is also the annual Jane Austen Festival in Bath from Sept.19 through the 28th. Oh, why am I not in England!  (our meeting this Sunday on “Austen’s England” will just have to do for now…)
  • Jane Odiwe has added a few of her lovely drawings to her blog Jane Austen Sequels:  a portrait of Jane, and a winter scene of Jane and Cassandra walking in Chawton.
  • And another book giveaway of Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict:  go to the Bookworm Blog and comment on the Q&A with author Laurie Viera Rigler…winner will be announced Sept. 15.
  • And Laurel Ann at Austenprose, still recovering from her excellent Mansfield Park Madness escapade, is reading some of the Juvenilia…so visit her for an update, and if you haven’t read any of Austen’s early works, start now…they are delightful!  (and hoping that Laurel Ann will continue her posts on this.) 

A review of the book Lace in Fashion , by Pat Earnshaw on the Textile Dreams Blog:  the book traces the history of lace from the 16th to 20th century.  Originally published in 1986 by Batsford, a 2nd edition by Gorse (1991) is still in print.