UK, 2013, 97 minutes, Colour.
Keri Russell, JJ Feild, Jennifer Coolidge, Jane Seymour, Bret Mc Kenzie, James Callis, Georgia King, Ricky Whittle.
Directed by Jerusha Hess.
2013 sees the bicentenary of the publication of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, one of the great classic novels. However, Jane Austen, with her acute observation of daily life in the Regency period, was not without a satirical eye and a wry comment. Would she have approved of Austenland? Perhaps a bit too broad in its comedy for her general taste, but she may have made allowances for the eccentricities of the Americans coming to England as well as the pretensions of some of her fellow-countrymen and countrywomen.
Austenland is not an exploration of Jane Austen’s novels but a bit of a visit to her world, a British theme park devoted to Jane Austen and offering visitors the opportunity to dress up, speak, behave like 18th-century characters, perhaps find a little romance themselves. At least this something of a hope of the main character, called to Jane, rather than Elisabeth, (Keri Russell), a young American who is enthralled by Jane Austen’s novels, a longing look across the Atlantic to 18th-century Britain, and in need of some romance in her life having experienced disappointment with some ex-boyfriends.
Off she goes, only to find that her investment entitles her to the copper tour rather than the platinum tour. Dressed in costume at the airport, she is transported to Austenland along with another American tourist who was given the name Miss Charming, whereas Jane becomes Miss Erstwhile and finds herself lodged in equivalent of the servant’s quarters.
One of the joys of the film is that Miss Charming is played by Jennifer Coolidge, well-known in comedy circles for her role as Stifler’s mother in the American Pie series but also for her satirical performances in the films of Christopher Guest, like Best in Show. She sends up American ignorance delightfully, making all kinds of odd and sometimes bizarre remarks, with some funny one-liners as well is setting her cap one of the performers at Austenland.
And they are performers, led by the rather prim and demanding Mrs Wattlesbrook (Jane Seymour). Everything is in costume, manners are to be observed, there is crocheting, games of whist, a performance of a rather silly romantic play composed by Mrs Wattlesbrook as well as hunting and a proper ball. Jane is treated with some distain by some of the guests and is partly disillusioned with her visit. However, she is attracted to one of the stable hands, thinking that he was not one of the group of actors who were there to portray the 18th century types. She is also wary of Mr Nobley (J.J.Feild), the nephew of the proprietor, an obvious Mr Darcy equivalent. There follows a slight plot of unrequited love which echoes Jane Austen’s novels.
There are some laugh out loud sequences, amusement at much of the dialogue, the film offering some giggles and some smiles throughout. Of course, it is a slightly moralising film, Jane having to learn the difference between fantasy and reality, romance and real-life personal love and commitment. It does not spoil the endin to say that she learns lessons and finds romance. No matter what the external manner, even coldness, it is, ultimately, the Mr Darcys who will prevail.
1. The popularity of Jane Austen? Two centuries since her popularity? The novels? The Regency era? Her life?
2. The film tradition, television? Colin Firth as Mr Darcy, the excerpts from cryogen pretty pride and prejudice, Pride and Prejudice, the life-size cut-out of Mr Darcy?
3. The films theme of fantasy and reality? Jane and her life and reality, relationships? Her fantasy, absorbed in Jane Austen’s world, the novels, the course? The decorations of her room?
4. The musical score and overtones of the 18th century? The use of contemporary songs like Bette Davis Eyes, Lady in Red…?
5. The tone, romantic, the touch of spoof, the theme park, the actors and their performances, the reality for the clients? The humorous dialogue and audiences smiling throughout?
6. Jane, her room, going to the course, her boyfriends, the breakup, her pregnant friend and advice, the idea of going to Austenland, the discussions with the agent, his persuasion? Her friend and the bet about clearing her room on return?
7. The UK, the landmarks, the airport, wearing the costume, Martin as the chauffeur, Miss Charming, the introductions informality, the car? The drive?
8. Mrs Wattlesbrook and her television promotion of the theme park, the touches of snobbery, the introduction, the class distinctions, the platinum to, the copper tour? Four okay the put on voices and accents? Wearing the Regency clothes, assuming the manners, obeying the rules, going for walks, stitching, the meals and food, playing the piano, the dances, conversation, against a list? Playing whist? Americans adapting to this British style?
9. The staff, the actors, making targets of clients, costumes, Martin working in the stable, the kernel and the overtones of the Raj? East, the pirate background, is being a soap opera star, stripper? Mrs Wattlesbrook’s husband and his sexual assaults? Nobley, Mrs Wattlesbrook’s nephew, his being the equivalent of Darcy? The parallels?
10. Jane, her hopes, plain, the copper to, the back of the carriage, her small room, her plain dress, and also ran? Mrs Wattlesbrook’s disregard of her? The name of Miss Erstwhile? The effect on her? At the table, the remarks, her being targeted, her escape from the rudeness? A reliance on Martin, going to meet him, his friendliness, the kiss, the birth of the foal, getting the straw? The ride, the hunt, the changing horses, caught in the rain, her being rescued by Nobley? Martin and his on and off approach? Nobley and his disdain? The mobile phone and her being saved? The play?
11. The actors and the relaxing, the talk among themselves, their characters, their whole approach being scripted?
12. Miss Charming, Jennifer Coolidge and her style of comedy, Miss Charming, the platinum tour, her ignorance about Jane Austen, her varying accent, her manners, her clothes, the sex appeal, looking for men? Her one-liners and the humour? Her friendship with Jane, sharing with her, all the activities?
13. Nobley, Mrs Wattlesbrook’s nephew, his place in the house, assuming that he was an actor, his dressing for the role, his disdain of the process, his participation, the audience thinking he was an actor, Jane thinking he was an actor? The repartee, his harsh comments? The growing attraction to Jane, rescuing her in the rain, the discussions but his hesitation, the falling in love, the revelation of the truth, Jane not believing him? The discussions with his aunt, with Martin, the set up the Jane at the airport, his coming to the rescue, her not believing him, his trip to America, the encounter with her, the fulfilment of her dreams?
14. Martin, actor, from New Zealand, no job in The Hobbit (!), work in the stables, the birth of the foal, going riding, changing the horses, his spasmodic interesting Jane, the kisses, the setup for the airport?
15. The Colonel, the imitation of the Raj, Miss Charming falling for him, his awkwardness, the indications whether he was gay or not?
16. Captain East, the West Indies, the background of piracy, his bravado, his script, his bearing his chest at every possibility, Amelia and her infatuation with him, trying any means to get him?
17. Mrs Wattlesbrook and her play, melodrama, ludicrous, the forced audience, the performances, Jane and Nobley, Miss Charming firing the arrow and wounding Amelia?
18. Jane and the mobile phone, its being discovered, Amelia taking the blame, later learning that Nobley had put her up to it?
19. Amelia and her English accent, her behaviour, taking the Regency to heart, with an eye on Captain East, the wound to her eye, the revelation that she was American?
20. An entertaining, tongue-in cheek, travel through fantasy and reality in the name of Jane Austen?