AustenlandThursday 26 Sep 2013
Director: Jerusha Hess
Starring: Keri Russell, JJ Feild, Jennifer Coolidge, Jane Seymour, Georgia King
Duration: 97 minutes
With superb performances on TV shows Felicity and The Americans, it's quite a shame that Keri Russell hasn't quite managed to make the crossover to the big screen.
Her latest release, Austenland, does nothing to showcase her considerable talents.
Adapted from Shannon Hale's chick lit novel, Austenland tells the tale of American singleton Jane Hayes (Russell), who is a self-confessed Jane Austen fanatic. From the cardboard cut-out of Colin Firth, aka Mr Darcy, to the dainty, rose-adorned teacups and creepy dolls, Jane's apartment is stuffed to the rafters with Austen-esque paraphernalia.
After one failed romance too many Jane decides to spend her life savings on a trip to Austenland, an Austen-themed holiday resort in the British countryside. Austenland promises to transform all its guests into Austen heroines (empire waist gowns and needlepoint pastimes included), complete with their own Mr Darcy experience.
Jane is greeted by Mrs Wattlesbrook (Jane Seymour) upon arrival, and soon learns that her budget package entitles her to dowdy dresses and a stay in the servant quarters, while the other guests are treated to more ostentatious accommodation.
However, her streamlined package doesn't scrimp on the romance, and Jane actually finds herself entangled in a bit of a love triangle. (Although it is quite difficult to see what is 'real' and what is fiction as all the men of the house are played by actors.)
Potential Darcys come in the form of Colonel Andrews (James Callis), sailor Captain East (Ricky Whittle), gardener Martin (Bret McKenzie) and Henry Nobley (JJ Feild). Also fighting for their attention are the other guests of Austenland, Elizabeth 'Tallyho' Charming (Jennifer Coolidge) and Lady Heartwright (Georgia King).
After a summer filled with CGI and 3D overload, it was nice to have something a little more light-hearted to look forward to. But honestly, you just spend the whole time thinking, 'Did I miss something, was that supposed to be funny?' The only laughs I had were at some of the ridiculously hammed-up performances - so out there that at times I thought I was watching the blooper reel at the end of the movie.
As for romance, Jane does not develop enough as a character for us to really care about whether she ends up with her true love - after about 10 minutes you can pretty much work out exactly where the movie is headed. If Jane was meant to be a take on any of Austen's characters, or indeed a combination of them, I certainly couldn't see Elizabeth Bennet, Emma Woodhouse or Marianne Dashwood in her. And if director Jerusha Hess was angling for a satire, Austenland packs about as much as a deflated balloon.