Monday, May 19, 2014

Review: Austenland (2013)

Is Austenland strictly a period drama? No: it takes place in today's time. But is it like a modern movie like we've all seen before? Not quite: there's a lot of dress up and talk about Regency times. Austenland is in a weird state of limbo: not quite a period drama, but not modern enough for a regular movie. So why am I reviewing it? Well, it does have a lot to do with Jane Austen and Regency times even though it doesn't take place in the Regency Era.
DVD Box Art

Jane Hayes, a single, thirty-something American woman who is obsessed with Pride and Prejudice, spends all her savings to take a trip to Austenland, a resort devoted to Jane Austen and the Regency era to find the perfect Regency gentleman. Becoming Miss Jane Erstwhile, an orphan of no fortune (due to the bronze package she purchased), Jane begins to butt heads with Mr. Henry Nobley, an arrogant man of good fortune, befriends Miss Elizabeth Charming (another American at the resort), and falls in love with groundskeeper Martin. Throughout her trip, Jane realizes that life in Regency England isn't all that she hoped it was.


There were a couple of familiar faces in Austenland, but not a whole lot.

Actor/ActressCharacterAlso Seen In
J.J. FieldHenry NobleyNorthanger Abbey (2007) as Henry Tilney
Georgia KingLady Amelia HeartwrightLittle Dorrit (2008) as Pet Meagles
Jane SeymourMrs. WattlesbrookThe Scarlet Pimpernel (1982) as Marguerite Blakeney
Rupert VansittartMr. WattlesbrookPride and Prejudice (1995) as Mr. Hurst

Jane Hayes sitting with Mr. Wattlesbrook
The entire story we see through the eyes of Jane Hayes, a huge Jane Austen fan, having decorated her apartment as a shrine to Pride and Prejudice, watches Pride and Prejudice religiously (the 1995 miniseries, of course) and even has a cardboard cutout of Colin Firth's Mr. Darcy. While I do admire her admiration for Pride and Prejudice (which, as you all know, is my favorite of Jane Austen's books), I get the sense out of her that she is more of a fan of Pride and Prejudice and not necessarily Jane Austen. I have to question whether she had read any other Jane Austen book: she doesn't make reference to any other Jane Austen book -- only Pride and Prejudice. To me, it would have been funnier if there were more references to Jane Austen's other books instead of going out of their way to make awful Pride and Prejudice jokes.

Miss Elizabeth Charming
Miss Elizabeth Charming is another American guest at Austenland. She befriends Jane early in the movie, and although she is kind to Jane, she was one of the most annoying characters in this movie. She is an airhead who is also loud and vulgar. I simply couldn't stand her. It wasn't even like she was naive and innocent, which isn't necessarily annoying: she was just simply loud, vulgar, and annoying. What she was doing at Austenland in the first place, I cannot even fathom. I'm not even sure what her purpose was to the whole plot: she didn't really add much to it except of saying something that would have been completely inappropriate in Regency England. It was like she was put in there as an attempt to be funny without it actually being funny.

Mrs. Wattlesbrook
Jane Seymour played the strict owner of Austenland, Mrs. Wattlesbrook, who strives to keep Austenland as accurate to the Regency Era as possible. Her character can be seen as reminiscent of Lady Catherine de Bourgh. It was nice to see Jane Seymour, but I think she could have done a lot better. Seriously, she was in such classic period dramas as The Scarlet Pimpernel and Somewhere in Time... and now she is in a B-rated Jane Austen parody? Something's just not right with that. I would say as far as Jane Seymour is concerned, she did the best she could with what she was given.

Martin (left) and Henry Nobley (right)
Then there's the whole direct reference to Pride and Prejudice with Henry Nobley as a Mr. Darcy character and Martin as a Wickham character. Henry Nobley starts out as a very dislikable character who Jane initially dislikes, but (as you might have guessed) she eventually falls in love with. Martin starts out as a character who Jane falls in love with almost instantly, but (yep, you guessed it) turns out to be a jerk. To me, the whole thing felt really cliched -- like they were trying too hard to make yet another Pride and Prejudice reference. Now, did I like the character of Henry Nobely and dislike the character of Martin? Yes, but I think part of my liking Henry Nobely was because he was played by J.J. Field who was Henry Tilney in the 2007 version of Northanger Abbey (Okay, the rest of his character was okay too). This was a major part of the plot, but to me, it just fell entirely flat.

The "real world" scenes weren't much to speak of (considering the bulk of the film takes place in Austenland), but the Austenland scenes were very pretty! The house of Austenland was big and nicely decorated -- worthy of a regular Jane Austen adaptation. The grounds -- lovely to behold. This was definitely one of the high points of the movie.

The infamous sleeveless dress!
So, even though this is a modern movie, I will only be discussing the Regency fashions of the film (that is, after all, why I am reviewing this film). Well, on the one hand, most of the costumes are very nice. Jane's tended to be very plain and were usually dark since her character in Austenland is a poor orphan; even though she didn't have the best costumes, they still fit her persona. Miss Elizabeth Charming had on very elaborate and colorful clothes, but almost always low cut. Henry Nobely was always dressed the Regency gentleman. But on the other hand, a few of the costumes were outside the Regency Era. The first costume of Mrs. Wattlesbrook looked more appropriate for an 1820s setting due to the lower waistline and excessive trimmings (and she was supposed to be accurate! Tsk, tsk!), but hey! you could argue that that dress was late Regency. Martin was dressed in an earlier, rougher costume, but as a servant, he can more easily get away with it. And then, the infamous sleeveless Regency ball gown worn in Sense and Sensibility (2008) made an appearance. It was worn not by someone who would risk daring gowns like Miss Charming, but rather it was worn by... Jane. Now, granted, at that point in the movie, she had become more daring, but I still don't think a gown like that would have been allowed by Miss Wattlesbrook, but then again, she did wear an 1820s gown.

Overall: 1/5
This movie had a lot of potential to be funny, but it simply wasn't all that funny. The humor was mostly cheesy jokes about Pride and Prejudice (that weren't very good), and Jane Austen's other books are forgotten about (with the exception of that small excerpt from Emma). The movie/park should have been more appropriately called Pride and Prejudice Land and not Austenland since the other Austen books weren't even mentioned. The humor was also heavily based on Miss Elizabeth Charming's inappropriate remarks (for the Regency era) and for her air-headed-ness. For a comedy, there wasn't enough solid humor in the movie. I haven't read the book, so there is a chance this movie doesn't do the book justice, but as a movie, this was just horrid and, I'm sure, would make Jane Austen herself shudder at the sight of it.

This movie doesn't have any particular scenes to skip (or if there are, they only last a couple of seconds), but there are suggestive comments scattered throughout the movie. There is one scene where Jane is nearly attacked late in the evening, but is rescued. There is some mild swearing, but nothing too extreme.

Lost in Austen is available on DVD. It runs for 97 minutes and is rated PG-13 for suggestive content and innuendo.


  1. Actually, this sounds like a bit of an improvement upon the book...which is why I quit the book.

  2. I have to question whether she had read any other Jane Austen book

    Yes, I had the same feeling with both the movie and the book - at least the book did have her make a slight reference to one or two others, but at the same time the focus on Darcy Darcy Darcy and miniseries miniseries miniseries made me want them both to stop treating her like a Jane Austen fan, because she's clearly just obsessed with the film version of one book. And the distillation of Jane Austen's works into P&P alone is an awful and highly prevalent thing - it's so common for people to generalize re: plot and character types in Austen from it when really, each novel is distinctly different from the others in huge ways.

    I loved Miss Charming, though. She was OTT at times and the book version was certainly more skillfully drawn, but there's something about Jennifer Coolidge in most of her movies that I find very, well, charming. I think here it was her character's optimism and willingness to try new things despite clearly not having a personal interest in them at all (seriously, how did she even get there??).

    The Nobley/Martin plot was too cliché and expected for me as well, but I will give them this - I did not think they were going to go with Martin being her intended guy. I had read about 3/4 of the book by the time I saw the movie, so hadn't been spoiled for the ending, but I'd also gone in with the mindset of the book's Austenland, in which there are no "packages" and everyone is supposed to have a carefully tailored, highly personal experience. I knew Martin wouldn't be The One, but it was a pretty good curveball plot twist to have him be a fake rule-breaking experience.

    (and she was supposed to be accurate! Tsk, tsk!)

    The interesting thing about the theme park's accuracy is that it's only done in a self-serving way. No electronics, we have to be accurate! (And prevent you from sharing information about this highly exclusive resort on the internet. And be really selective about whom we punish for breaking the rule.) But let's use glue guns to make bonnets and use flush toilets. Every woman should be pressed into performing at the piano, because in the 19th century it as expected that every lady could play at least a little. (And because I dislike you and want to put you on the spot.) But it's okay for the hall outside your room to be full of really modern junk. As much as the premise of Austenland the place was that you would step back in time, I think it was intentionally tawdry on the part of the filmmakers to make the point that it's not real at all. The sleeveless gown, being highly inaccurate, fits in with this to me because the ball is easily the most ridiculous point of the whole vacation - fake marriage proposals are being shouted out to the world, 90% of the people present are the servants in nicer clothes, people are making out and feeling each other up all over the place. It's not a reproduction Austen ball like you get with Susan di Guardiola, it's just a play-place.

    JJ Feild is the most charming man in existence - I don't mean his lines, even in movies where his character is saying bad things, there's still something magnetic about him. But I want to see him and Tom Hiddleston play brothers in some period piece sometime, they'd be fantastic together.

    I could see reading a sequel to the book (which, btw, I would say is slightly better than the movie, but many of the things that annoyed you in the film came out of the book, so ... if you get it from the library or very cheap) that dealt with other Austen situations, similar to the way that the Bridget Jones sequel was based on Persuasion, but as it is I doubt the author's into that, since my impression was that she liked the miniseries the most as well. Ah well, that's what fanfiction is for.

  3. This was a disappointment, but J.J. Field was in it so it wasn't that bad.

  4. I know you want to discuss mostly about the costume but I think you miss a major point about the movie.The line between reality of our modern life and the fiction as we play and costume is thin and some people don't even know there is one.Remember the line from the movie: it's a dangerous kind of game.Many people put their hobby ,or obsession in the case of the character of Jane,on a pedestal.I personally like the movie because it show that; the game that came with costume and what happend when you put something on a pedestal and the fall that came with it.

    1. I really like your comment of the message of the movie. I know that in the movie it is an extreme of what some people, but I have meet people who are so obsessed with Mr. Darcy it is really ridiculous. Jane Austen other heroes such as Mr. Tilney and Mr. Knightley are just swoon worthy as Mr. Darcy, but most people just know about Mr. Darcy and not Austen's other works. What I like about this movie is that Jane learns and changes. She doesn't completely demolish all her possessions in her apartment. She still makes some tea for herself and keeps her books, but she learns that books are fictional and that make believe is not real. What she thought that world would be like is not what she believed it to be. She wanted something real and she did eventually get it, but not as she thought. There is a growth in her character and I like that.


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