Lost in Austen
based on Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
I was pretty much speechless after watching Lost in Austen with a friend of mine; we ended up watching Saturday Night Live, well, live as we recovered. Lost in Austen is unique in that it’s the first Mary Sue Self Insert Fic television miniseries I’ve ever seen and will possibly ever see. (Kiss your productivity goodbye!) It was one of the most surreal experiences of my life, to be totally honest—since Mary Sue Self Insert Fics are an important rite of passage in the lives of preteen fangirls, it felt like reading some (remarkably literary) thirteen year old’s diary. It’s… something to be experienced.
Lost in Austen follows the life of Amanda Price, a young Londonite whose deep, deep love for Pride and Prejudice is at odds with her decidedly unromantic boyfriend, Michael, who tries to propose to her while watching a football game on the television—while drunk. But one day, Amanda discovers a strange girl in her bathroom—Elizabeth Bennet, who has discovered a door in her house that terminates in Amanda’s bathroom. Elizabeth tricks Amanda into going into the world of Pride and Prejudice, and the two switch places. While Amanda tries to keep her head down, she soon derails the romance between Jane and Bingley, and her efforts to restore the novel into working order further changes things, as well as her growing attraction to a one Mr. Darcy. Will Amanda ever get this novel back on track and herself back home? (And what on earth is Elizabeth doing in modern London?)
Now, when I say Mary Sue Self Insert Fic, the fannish among you are probably already running for the hills. In the days of The Lord of the Rings fandom’s film boost, stories about perfect American girls getting into the movies and making out with Legolas were a dime a dozen. But Guy Andrews—as much as I hate to be gender essentialist, I’m still flummoxed that a man wrote this—takes this tired concept and breathes new life into it by actually following it through. Amanda Price, while not as rounded as I like my characters and is, of course, underappreciated by the people in her real life, is still a fairly regular girl. While she can’t exactly come out and tell Bingley and Darcy where she’s from, she’s extremely aware of the influence Pride and Prejudice has had on her life; Amanda’s been in love with Darcy since she was twelve. I do have to call shenanigans, however, on the fact that Amanda seems to not be aware that Jane Austen wrote anything else. She has to learn to fit in and play the games of society in order to survive—Mrs. Bennet eventually turns Amanda out of the house, disgusted with the effect she’s having on the young Misses Bennet. While the ending is still straight out of a classic Mary Sue Self Insert Fic, there’s some thought behind it, and the characters have to earn their ending, no matter how ridiculous it is. How ridiculous, you might ask? Amanda makes Darcy reenact the famous wet shirt scene from the 1995 Pride and Prejudice. Yes, really.
Jemima Rooper does well as Amanda, making the usual time travel difficulties feel natural; as an enormous fan of Pride and Prejudice, she can navigate, but not nearly as well as she thinks she can. (She ends up having to convince Bingley she’s gay so that he’ll pursue Jane and not her—it’s not her fault, it’s her boobs. Yes, really.) I picked this up on the strength of Alex Kingston, my beloved River Song, and she doesn’t disappoint, managing to give Mrs. Bennet some humanity and backbone while still overacting. It’s quite amazing. Huge Bonneville’s Mr. Bennet is darling; Guy Andrews writes wonderful dialogue for him and expands on his character well. Tom Mison makes for a sweet Mr. Bingley, although Amanda’s attempts to put the novel back on track soon changes that, and Darcy is played quite broodingly by Elliot Cowan, described by my friend as the British Matt Damon. Lost in Austen makes Wickham, Caroline Bingley, and even Lady Catherine into sympathetic characters, revealing things that, as Amanda puts it, Jane Austen would have been shocked to learn she’d put in there. (Mr. Collins, however, becomes hideously repulsive and creepy here.)
This production mimics BBC adaptations of Austen’s work, even using a lot of the same costumes, and Regency England contrasts favorably against modern London—Amanda’s busy London neighborhood, Hammersmith, isn’t even a part of London in the novel. Lost in Austen reminded me of The Eyre Affair, wherein literary agent Thursday Next accidentally changes the ending of Jane Eyre in her efforts to get the kidnapped character back into the book. However, Next’s universe’s original Jane Eyre ends differently before she interferes; her interference results in the Jane Eyre we know today. Watching Lost in Austen made me want to see something like that occur, but, alas, no—we have to have an story that feels, no matter how well developed, like it’s coldly calculated at an Austenite demographic that doesn’t read much else.
Bottom line: The first Mary Sue Self Insert Fic television miniseries that I’ve ever seen. While Guy Andrews does develop the idea of a modern girl switching places with Elizabeth Bennet organically and the cast is pretty solid (including England’s answer to Matt Damon, Elliot Cowan), I can’t shake the feeling that it’s coldly calculated at an Austenite demographic that doesn’t read much else. Kind of surreal.
I rented this DVD from my college library.