Austenland review (DVD)

Mr Darcy – one of the greatest male characters in women’s literature. Through the years more and more women have fallen in love with him thanks to Jane Austen’s work. A man who epitomises everything that (most) ladies want in a man. But what if you could visit a Mr Darcy for a small entrance fee, and also experience the Austen world? Surely that’s a licence to print money? Welcome to Austenland.

Good news for Jane Hayes (Russell) then, as her love of all things Jane Austin can become reality. Using her life savings to visit Austenland, an eccentric resort in England where guests are immersed in the Regency era, Jane quickly becomes part of the “fair” but cannot distinguish where fantasy ends and real life begins.

Some who watch Austenland will probably do so for their love of the Austen world, and so the end result will be extremely different to those of us who have never read a Jane Austen novel nor have any interest in that area. However, even when approaching it from a clean slate with no preconceived notions of the ideas and cast, you still cannot help but feel this is not what Austen would have wanted to see.

All jokes revolve around names and actions of that era, meaning nothing lands correctly for the non-Austen viewer. It’s a series of moments linked by a vague narrative of finally finding ones hallowed ground. We have to sit through excruciating scenes where the ladies try to win the hearts of the well to do men via flirting outrageously with them over extravagant meals. The men look positively scared and are ready to be devoured by these Austen-aholics. Following the well worn tread of the main female falling for the stable boy, we have to endure this woeful storyline that is so obvious from the moment Jane steps off the carriage and is helped by the man in question. Austen-ism’s fall out of the script more than any actual dialogue or storyline.

It’s difficult to pick out a respectable performance. Russell looks suitably embarrassed to be uttering such dizzy nonsense. The always reliable Jennifer Coolidge can’t even manage to peak it up, her lines seem to revolve around stupidity and sex. Flight Of The Concords Bret McKenzie gets the unenviable task of trying to play funny whilst wooing the posh totty as the stable boy Martin - a role that he is wholly mis-cast in.

When a film is directed by Jerusha Hess, who wrote Napoleon Dynamite, and produced by Stephanie Meyer, author of the Twilight novels, I expected at least something to hang onto, yet this is all kinds of wasted time especially the incredible amount of double-entendres that sink the film to the depths of despair. This feels like a Saturday Night Live sketch that has been pushed into a crappy movie. Of course, Austen fans may have a different opinion.

EXTRAS ★★ Commentary with Jerusha Hess and Stephanie Meyer. Q&A with Keri Russell, Jennifer Coolidge, Jane Seymour and others.

Mark Brennan

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