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REVIEW: 'Austenland' a tale of laughter and love

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Where can a lady turn for solace against the metallic glare from this summer’s action adventure blockbusters? A country estate in England beckons in the delightful trifle, Austenland.  Keri Russell takes a break from her ass-kicking role as a Russian spy in FX’s The Americans, to portray Jane Hayes, a thirtysomething singleton obsessed with Mr. Darcy and Jane Austen. Her best friend wants her to retire the chintz, but after having a creepy ex show up at work, Jane heads to her travel agent to plot her great escape- to a more genteel time.

Austenland is a tourist destination where the guests experience life in the “Regency” style of the Jane Austen novels. At the airport, she meets Miss Elizabeth Charming (portrayed by Jennifer Coolidge). The ditzy, wealthy American mangles a British accent and idioms - “The British are coming” - as she begins plotting her romantic adventures. Photo: CBSnews.com

Jane Seymour play the role of Mrs. Wattlesbrook, the owner of the resort. Following the protocol of the era, Jane is assigned a room and wardrobe in keeping with her character, an orphan of no financial means. Georgia King rounds out the cast playing a young guest given a more sophisticated pedigree named Lady Amelia Heartwright. She returns determined to have a more successful romance than the previous year.

Mrs. Wattlesbrook staffs Austenland with young men who are to be suitors like the popular male characters, Mr. Darcy (Pride and Prejudice) and Captain Wentworth (Persuasion).  Mr. Henry Nobley is Mrs. Wattlesworth’s nephew, and is he really on site under duress, or has he perfected his Darcy impersonation? Colonel Andrews (James Callis) is quick with a compliment to the ladies, but seems to suspiciously pull away when one of them gets too close. Bret McKenzie (Flight of the Concords) plays Martin, one of the staff. He provides a welcome flirtation when Jane finds the conversation with the guests stifling.

We see why Austen and her characters are so appealing to Russell’s Jane. Unfortunately, the supporting female characters are mere caricatures. Coolidge excels at playing the voluptuous, kooky sidekick, while King’s character is a bit erratic. The men don’t fare much better, but we get a glimpse into their real lives once they are off the clock.

As Jane navigates her daily activities (a game of croquet, conversation in the parlor, horseback riding), she finds herself drawn to two of the men. She observes how the others chase after their fictitious love stories and she gains insight into her own behavior.

Using Austen as her guide, however, she learns how to embrace her desires and follow her heart.


 

Contact Diane Cooney at dcooney@philly2philly.com

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Photo: cbsnews.com