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  M.   September 04, 2008

This is not a sentence that you often hear – but it’s been a good week for drama on ITV1. After The Children’s highly promising start on Monday, last night brought us the first episode of Lost in Austen. Of course, as many people have already spotted from its shameless blending of Pride and Prejudice with Life on Mars, the series does come with a distinct whiff of commercial calculation. Yet, so far at least, this only goes to show that commercial calculation can sometimes work rather well. The result can’t be called profound. Nonetheless, it does triumphantly achieve its main aim of being enormously good-natured fun.

Jemima Rooper plays Amanda Price, a Jane Austen addict, who began last night living a typical (harsher critics might say stereotypical) twentysomething life in Hammersmith, complete with rubbish boyfriend burping away on the sofa. But then her literary heroine, Elizabeth Bennet (Gemma Arterton) suddenly stumbled through a door in the space-time-fiction continuum to pitch up in the bathroom. When Amanda went through the other way, without Lizzie, the door inevitably locked behind her, leaving her stranded in the Bennet family home.

Admittedly, some viewers may have felt this was a bit implausible. There is, however, one obvious counter-argument: who cares? On reflection, Life on Mars possibly wasted too much effort trying to make the time-travel both believable and significant. Here, once Amanda’s adventures were under way, it never seemed remotely important how she got there.

The first family member she met was Mr Bennet, who allowed Hugh Bonneville to demonstrate once again that no other actor – except perhaps Jim Broadbent – can do benevolent perplexity quite so well. From their conversation, Amanda realised that she’d arrived just at the start of the novel, with Mr Bingley newly installed at Netherfield: a fact instantly confirmed by the sound of female hysterics off-stage. (“My wife,” explained Mr Bennet resignedly.)

After that, the culture clashes were soon cheerfully piling up. At the Bingleys’ ball, where Mr Darcy (Elliot Cowan) put in a suitably brooding performance, Amanda made the mistake of necking too much Regency punch, popping outside for a fag and snogging Mr Bingley (Tom Mison) himself – who responded with an astonished but grateful “Gosh!” Now, duly mortified, she’s trying hard to make everything turn out as it does in the novel.

Through all of this, Lost in Austen manages the neat Life on Mars trick of showing the qualities and drawbacks of both eras. Amanda may think she prefers the old courtesies – at least when she’s not been on the punch. The programme itself gently reminds us how limited the Bennet girls’ lives are. It also throws in plenty of nice little touches. Mr Bennet, for example, was able to look more perplexed than ever when Amanda said Hammersmith is in London, rather than a small village several miles outside it.

Source: Telegraph

Lost in Austen (ITV1)
4 stars out of 5

Carpers will say you can have too much Jane Austen, but Guy Andrews’s Lost in Austen is a funny, clever breeze. Amanda (Jemima Rooper) is a Pride and Prejudice fanatic, a dreamer with a loser boyfriend. One day Elizabeth Bennet (Gemma Arterton) appears in her bathroom — through a door in her wall lies the world of the novel. Amanda ends up with the Bennets, and Elizabeth in present-day Hammersmith. It is a culture-clashing, time-clashing Walnut Whip of frothy nonsense with the intriguing proposition that Amanda may be able to change the outcome of her fictional touchstone. But what’s Elizabeth getting up to in Hammersmith?

Source: Times Online