AUSTEN POW­ERS

A sassy Lon­doner steps back through time and into Lizzie Ben­net’s shoes in a new com­edy, writes

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Tv -

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

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