On paper, the prospect of Lost in Austen must have seemed like a pretty good bet. Into the ITV marketing blender went Life on Mars, Being John Malkovich and Bridget Jones – add a dollop of high concept and a hugely intrusive voiceover, and there you have it: television for that supposed demographic who gather round the television supping Lambrini and being ‘carefree’. So: obviously not designed for the likes of me (I’m more of a Special Brew and swearing at passers-by type of guy). However, my wife – who laps up any type of costume drama going – avoided it like the plague. In terms of viewing figures for Lost in Austen, this might be prove to be a significant fact as people desert it in favour of more demanding fare, such as Rory and Paddy’s Great British Adventure (that’s a joke, by the way).
That said, at least Rory and Paddy are actually going somewhere. I lost patience with Lost in Austen after forty minutes, as it didn’t seem to be doing or saying anything. Once the realisation struck that there was another three hours of this stuff to sit through, I went elsewhere. The only conclusion I can draw from that is that Lost in Austen isn’t as 'high concept' as it likes to think it is.
Consider the set up: bank clerk Amanda Price finds a portal into the fictional world of Pride and Prejudice in her bathroom – she enters the world of the novel at the start point and immediately begins to inadvertently subvert this fictional world by attracting the eye of Bingley (nice but dim), thereby disrupting Mrs Bennet’s plans to marry off her gaggle of daughters to the first big pile of bank notes that wanders past. The only problem here is that there is absolutely nothing at stake. Price (herself a fictional construct) is fannying about in a fictional world where the worst that can happen is – what exactly? That Mr Darcy ends up marrying someone other than Elizabeth Bennet? Why does this matter, and more to the point, who cares? And if Amanda Price has entered the novel at its outset, who’s writing it? Jane Austen herself? In which case, perhaps she’s having some type of weird Georgian psychotic episode as she imagines a future Hammersmith where people obsess about Jane Austen novels to the extent that they start having their own psychotic episodes where they believe that they are in fact interlopers in Austen’s own fictional world? With this type of brain-boiling logic on show, the more I watched the more I became convinced that the only explantion as to what the hell was going on was that Price was a raving lunatic – and watching what are apparently the romantic delusions of a demented bank clerk does not make entertaining television in my book.
All these meta-questions would be interesting if posed by someone like Charlie Kaufmann, but judging by the second episode preview, we’re going to get more of the same, i.e., Price trying to guide the course of the novel through to its ‘rightful’ conclusion – and where’s the fun in that? Like a great deal of high concept cinematic guff, in pitch format (forty words hurriedly garbled to an ITV executive) Lost in Austen’s premise sounds pretty good. However, in its execution you start to wonder exactly what the point of it is. Perhaps a gallon of Lambrini might have helped.