A sassy Londoner steps back through time and into Lizzie Bennet’s shoes in a new comedy, writes
IT is a truth universally acknowledged that a woman who died 190 years ago at the age of 41, having published only four novels in her lifetime, is still at the centre of our culture. Jane Austen, the virgin of the vicarage, is inescapable on television. Impecunious writers keep racking their ginsoaked brains to come up with yet another twist on the famous books of the one author any woman you know believes is hers alone.
This is just one of the many ideas behind ABC1’ s Lost in Austen , the often outrageous ITVproduced two-part romantic comedy series in which a thoroughly modern heroine threatens to dismantle one of the world’s great literary love stories, Pride and Prejudice .
Like most men I was once a caddish disbeliever when it came to Austen’s novels. Shamefully, I avoided them for decades, until I became familiar with her world through the almost unavoidable BBC adaptations of the past few years.
I’ve enjoyed them enormously despite the views of many female friends that seeing a movie or TV adaptation of any of Austen’s works is like hearing a Mozart concerto played on a honkytonk piano in a strip club.
The appeal of adapting Austen is that her beautifully constructed stories of heartbreak and happiness have more dramatic incidents than a year’s worth of any soap opera, let alone most modern novels.
And they are populated by gorgeous people who speak in wonderfully elliptical sentences while wearing period finery or, in the case of Colin Firth’s Mr Darcy in Andrew Davies’s famous adaptation of Pride and Prejudice , soaking wet trousers and see-through shirt. They live in beautiful, shabby chic homes in villages where life is social and convivial, and no one shouts into their mobile phones.
They also come with a set of social boundaries that can be translated into any environment, from a US high school in Clueless , Amy Heckerling’s dazzling teen lifestyle parody set in contemporary Los Angeles, to an interracial romance in Gurinder Chadha’s Bollywood-style adaptation, Bride & Prejudice .
In this latest variation scriptwriter Guy Andrews and director Dan Zeff have enormous only person in the world who understands what’s going on. Director Roland Emmerich knows how to scare us. But seriously? A Russian ship sailing up Fifth Avenue? An iceencrusted Statue of Liberty? I’m ashamed to admit that I enjoyed The Longest Yard ( Saturday, 9.30pm, Nine), crude, violent, a remake of a remake, but it tells a good story and tells it well. The 1974 Burt Reynolds film, which this one follows closely, combined the violent possibilities of gridiron football and prison drama. Director Peter Segal ( 50 First Dates ) has served up the story again with Adam Sandler as the Burt Reynolds character, an ex-celebrity football pro who finds himself in a windswept Texas desert prison organising fun kicking off from the notion of what it would be like to be so immersed in one of Austen’s books that you become lost in time and enter the writer’s reality as a character. Sure, it’s preposterous, but suspending disbelief is all part of the game in this effervescent fairytale about the recuperative, uplifting delights of reading.
Pitched conceptually somewhere between Life on Mars and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe , Lost in Austen propels us in time back and forth between two parallel universes, one contemporary and the other Austen’s early 19th century, in a surprisingly accomplished comedy of swapped times and destinies.
Bored London bank worker Amanda Price ( Jemima Rooper), from present-day Hammersmith, escapes life by losing herself in Pride and Prejudice , read so many times the words recite themselves in her head. Not that she’s hung up about that arrogant Mr Darcy, sitting at home with a finger on the pause button waiting for Firth and his clingy shirt to appear.
When Amanda’s boyfriend ( Daniel Percival) drunkenly proposes, he does so with a beery belch while brandishing a lager ring-pull tab as her engagement ring.
So it’s easy to understand why Amanda loves Austen’s love story, with its courtly language and sense of courtesy. ‘‘ It’s become part of who I am and what I want; I’m saying, Mum, I have standards,’’ she tells her raddled, divorced mother ( Pippa Haywood). ‘‘ You have standards, pet,’’ her tipsy Mum concedes warily. ‘‘ I hope a prisoners’ football team to play the guards. The story has lost none of its verve and charm. SBS has a crisp psychological thriller, The Bridesmaid ( Friday, 11pm), directed by my favourite maker of French psychological thrillers, Claude Chabrol, from a story by my favourite writer of English psychological thrillers, Ruth Rendell. What more could one ask? Three siblings take a keen dislike to their mother’s rich boyfriend. The unsmiling Philippe is especially hostile before falling for the bridesmaid at his sister’s wedding. Cool, sharp and sinister, I promise it will get you in. And some nice words for Teesh and Trude ( Wednesday, 10pm, SBS), directed by Melanie Read from Wilson McCaskill’s play, and the