For my 201st (!) post on this blog, I’m going to take the unprecedented step of writing about a TV show (well, mini-series) instead of a book.
On a co-worker’s recommendation, I checked out Lost in Austen, a British (ITV) miniseries from 2008. The premise: Amanda Price is a modern-day young British woman with what seems to be a rather boring job and a less-than-romantic boyfriend; Amanda finds romance in the pages of Pride & Prejudice instead. Right after her boyfriend proposes (about as un-romantically as possible, while still being sincere), Amanda discovers Elizabeth Bennet in her bathroom. Lizzie has entered through a door that used to go nowhere, but now is a portal (sometimes) between Amanda’s bathroom and the attic of Longbourn, the Bennets’ house, right when Pride & Prejudice is about to begin. Lizzie, entranced with the electric light in the bathroom, desires to stay; Amanda goes through the little door/portal, it shuts behind her, and voila: the two have changed places.
From this point on – until nearly the end of the miniseries – the viewer stays with Amanda in P&P, with no idea what Lizzie’s up to in present-day London. This is a significant choice, as most switcheroo stories go back and forth about equally between the two characters. However, Lost in Austen focuses on Amanda (“Miss Price”) as she royally screws up how the story is supposed to go, despite her best efforts to make everything happen the way it does in the book.
- If I were Amanda, as soon as I realized where/when I was, I would endeavor to obtain some period clothes ASAP. Instead, she blunders around wearing a leather jacket, a vivid purple top with studs, pants, boots, jewelry, and makeup. Eventually she does start wearing some of Lizzie’s clothes, but she rejects one of the Bennet sisters’ (Jane or Lydia, I forget which) offers to do her hair, and she continues to wear makeup (did she have a kit with her?).
- At one point, Lizzie slides a letter under the still-locked portal/door, which Amanda brings to Mr. Bennet. (Amanda and Lizzie have concocted some story that Lizzie went to stay at Amanda’s place in Hammersmith, while Amanda came to visit Longbourn, chalking this up to a cute miscommunication.) However, it never seems to occur to Amanda that she might be able to communicate with Lizzie the same way (i.e. letter-under-the-door), even though she’s desperate for her to come back and fix the story.
- Late in the series, Amanda gets fed up and rips up her beloved paperback copy of P&P, scattering the pages all over Pemberley. Darcy finds them and accuses her of being the author, despite the fact that he can’t possibly have failed to notice the difference between that book (its paper quality and its type, even if he didn’t see the page with the cataloging-in-publication information) and contemporary (to him) books.
- Finally, despite all of the changes from the original story, Austen’s text doesn’t change to reflect it. This would seem to violate one of the rules of time travel in literature, but because the Bennets et al. were supposed to be fictional to begin with, maybe that’s the loophole. Regardless, P&P still features Elizabeth, not Amanda.
According to IMDB and Rotten Tomatoes, Lost in Austen got about 70% approval from viewers, which isn’t bad. Forever Young Adult liked it more than I did too (see here and here), so perhaps it was just really that Amanda’s bangs (“fringe,” if we’re being British) and constant reapplication of lip gloss irked me. All in all it was okay, but for a real Austen fix I’d just go back to the BBC miniseries, or even the 2005 movie adaptation. Hugh Bonneville makes a good Mr. Bennet, though.
(I realize that most of this “review” is made up of quibbles. I’m not always so critical about TV, and I don’t even believe that the book is always better than the movie in cases of adaptations. I mean, usually the book is better, but not always.)