A couple of weeks ago, “Lost in Austen” finally came out on DVD in the United States. Those of us who delight in this marvelously twisted take on Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice couldn’t be happier.
This sharply written four-part series, which originally aired on British TV, then on the Oxygen channel (and PBS) here, revolves around what happens when a modern woman, Amanda Price (excellently portrayed by Jemima Rooper), finds herself transported into fictional Georgian England, right into the heart of Jane Austen’s most famous novel. As Amanda tries to negotiate the intricacies of early 19th century dancing, dining and etiquette, Lizzy Bennet, the heroine of Pride and Prejudice, is living it up in 21st century London and shows no signs of wanting to come back.
Like many women, Amanda loves Pride and Prejudice for its timeless love story between Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet. Then she meets the famous Fitzwilliam Darcy, who bitterly disappoints her by being a “relentlessly unpleasant,” overly arrogant aristocrat. Ah, but we knew that, didn’t we? Elliot Cowan excels as Darcy. He’s proud and overbearing, then contrite, and finally passionate. And he looks really, really good in a wet shirt. (Yes, “Lost in Austen” pays tribute to that famous jump-in-the-lake scene in the 1995 version of P&P, which cemented Colin Firth’s reputation as the Mr. Darcy for all time.)
Amanda’s presence throws the novel into chaos. Dismayed by the unexpected detours her favorite story is taking, she tries desperately to get everyone back on track, only to make things worse.
The fun of “Lost in Austen” is that, unlike Pride and Prejudice, we don’t know how things will turn out. The first time I watched it, I was on the edge of my seat, wondering what would happen next. Would Amanda really have to marry the unbearably oily Mr. Collins? If Darcy falls for Amanda, where does that leave Elizabeth? And is there more to the very interesting George Wickham than one might suspect?
There’s also the hilarity that ensues when 21st century morals, fashion, technology and language collide with the rigid manners of 1811. “Every time you try to pull a stroke,” Amanda tells Wickham, “I will be right behind you with a big neon sign saying don’t trust this guy.” He knits his brow in bewilderment. “What is neon?” And Lydia is more than a bit perplexed by the concept of pubic topiary. (“That’s called a landing strip,” Amanda explains breezily.)
If you haven’t seen this sci fi-meets-Austen comedy of errors, do yourself a favor and rent (or buy) the DVD. It’s a very entertaining three hours.