Wednesday, 24 September 2008

Lost In Austen - Bonnets and Bennets get the Life On Mars treatment

THE promise of a happy ending is one of the infectious delights of most costume dramas (except, of course, Tess of the Dreary-villes on BBC 1 where I'd cover your eyes now, if I were you).

But in the mischievous Lost In Austen (ITV1, Wednesday) we were kept guessing to the end whether we'd get our normal quota of lords and ladies dancing – simply because it had lost the plot, in the nicest possible way.

The great idea behind Lost in Austen was that it was Pride and Prejudice revisited. Sure, there were the usual share of Bennets and bonnets.

But from the start the plot had flung an unexpected spanner into the works – in the shape of 21st century Pride and Prejudice obsessive Amanda Price (played by the pouting but perfectly endearing Jemima Rooper). Amanda felt so disillusioned with her modern-girl life and boyfriend, she spent her days longing to enter the plot of her favourite novel – and, one day, had her chance when Lizzie Bennet showed up in her bathroom with a plan to swap places and times.

Alas, no matter how hard Amanda tried to hold things together, the usual smooth-running Austen plot fell apart. The first two episodes were frantic high comedy, culminating in Amanda choosing, for her solo performance at the Netherfield ball, an acapella version of Petula Clark's Downtown.

But then, things got more serious – well, in costume drama terms. Without Lizzie there to snub Collins, he ended up married to Jane. Bingley became an alcoholic and ran off with Lydia. Lizzie, meanwhile, was trapped as a text-message sending childminder in 21st century Hammersmith. Until 10 minutes from the end, we weren't sure we'd get our happy ending at all.

But, you'll be relieved to hear, all came good – particularly for Amanda, who ended up in Darcy's arms. And, if their final union lacked some emotional logic and Lady Catherine acted bizarrely out of character, at least we got to see Darcy in a wet shirt again. Phew! The script for Lost In Austen survived the curse of most ITV Drama Premiers by being largely brilliant and most of the actors appeared to be thoroughly enjoying themselves.

Now – if anyone's planning on doing any more fictional time-travelling, would they mind attending to Thomas Hardy, please? I've a feeling poor old Tess is going to be in need of some help.