Monday, March 17, 2014
Austenland: The Movie vs. The Book / Midnight in Austenland
Let me start from the beginning: Austenland: A Novel
Austenland: A Novel, written by the brilliant Shannon Hale, is a theme-park of sorts, a place where guests are immersed in the regency period, playing a character right out of one of Jane Austen's novels. The ladies play Whist, learn embroidery, play the pianoforte, and generally learn what it was like to live in a long ago time. In turn, they interact with the manor's gentlemen actors, each experiencing romance.
As a Jane fan, and an actor, I absolutely adore this concept! Were I single, I think it would be great fun to visit a place like this. I'd love the acting, the clothes, the manners and the pretend romance. Well, I'd love it for about a week. I wouldn't last the 3-week stay portrayed in the book.
In the book, the story begins when Jane Hayes, a 30-something obsessed with Mr. Darcy from Pride & Prejudice, is willed a trip to Austenland by her late aunt. Once there, she becomes Jane Erstwhile. Also along on the trip are Miss Heartwright and Miss Charming. While there are hints of personality in all 3 characters, they never fully reach their potential in the story, remaining rather vanilla. Even the male actor characters, Colonel Andrews, Mr. Nobley, Captain George East and Theo the gardener remain middle-of-the-road. I honestly didn't feel anything for any one of the characters. Of course I wanted Jane to find love in the end, but there was really no chemistry between Jane and the man she ultimately found love with.
Overall, I could have skipped the book and just watched the movie, which I highly recommend. Even if you decide to read the book, please watch the movie first. Here's why:
Austenland: The Movie
Austenland: The Movie takes the wonderful concept of Shannon Hale's book but marries it with characters you absolutely want to meet and hang out with.
Keri Russell shines as Jane Hayes aka Jane Erstwhile (a poor orphan of no means) in the movie version of the book. Before I saw the movie, I had misgivings about the casting, wondering if this beautiful actress could play a "Plain Jane" so-to-speak. Thankfully, my pre-conceived thoughts were thoroughly unfounded. Keri showed just the right amount of greenness and spunk. For someone unlucky in love for so much of her life, she quickly found two men in Austenland vying for her affection. She did a wonderful job of portraying different parts of Jane's personality with each man.
One of Jane's conquests is the Darcy-esque Mr. Nobley (JJ Feilds). From the very beginning, he seems less than thrilled to be in Austenland, barely looking up from his book to greet the lady guests. Mr. Nobley plays the Mr. Darcy-type well, at first annoyed by Jane, then slightly enamoured. While Jane admits his character is dreamy, is this the type of man she really wants?
Martin (the hilarious Bret McKenzie of "Flight of the Conchords fame), a grounds servant, is the other man courting Jane Erstwhile. They meet accidentally when Jane needs a break from the main house's constant fake acting. Martin is a sweet animal-whisperer. Although he isn't dashing like Mr. Nobley, Martin has lovely qualities of his own. Perhaps finding her Mr. Darcy isn't what Jane's really been looking for all along. Maybe Mr. Right is right in front of her.
Miss Charming, played by the hilarious Jennifer Coolidge, comes to life, fully realizing the Miss Charming from the book. This Miss Charming is someone I'd love to spend the week with! You can't help but smile and be cheered when she is around. She is smitten with Colonel Andrews and takes every opportunity available to let him know, much to his delight and chagrin.
James Callis brings Colonel Andrews to glowing life. He is by far the most talented actor in the bunch (according to me). He IS the effeminate over-the-top character actor you'd find working in a place like Austenland. When I say James "is" his character, I mean that he is not merely acting, but becomes his character. While the other actors are great at their roles, he is by far the best.
Miss Heartwright (Georgia King) is also alive with characterization. A seasoned Austenland visitor, she knows all the proper things to say and do and does them unabashedly. Her quirkiness brings a another comic element to the group.
Captain George East (Ricky Whittle), a b-rated soap actor, is the final actor rounding out the cast. A high seas Captain, he longs for Miss Erstwhile despite the fact that Miss Heartwright has her eye set on him. And Miss Heartwright always gets what she wants.
At the end of the movie, Jane must decide who she wants: a fictitious Mr. Darcy or "something real." To find out what happens, rent the movie today!
And, in what is the LONGEST POST EVER, I will now review Shannon Hale's Midnight in Austenland: A Novel.
Midnight in Austenland
Although the original Austenland book kept me wanting more from the characters, the movie gripped me and I wanted to read Shannon's second installment in the (hopefully multi-volume) Austenland series. After reading this book, I realized that quite a bit of Midnight in Austenland was found in the movie version of Austenland. For example, Miss Charming's character in this volume was much more similar to the Miss Charming in the movie. She was more real, more alive.
Charlotte Kinder is our heroine in this novel. Miss Charming has never left Austenland and Colonel Andrews is still in this acting cast. It was nice to "see" old friends and meet new. A pop star in hiding and a brooding Darcy-like Mr. Morley round out the cast. But unlike the first book, this one has one helluva killer plot (pun intended).
While playing a mystery game devised by Colonel Andrews, Charlotte gets the startle of her life: a real dead body! But when she comes back the next day to see if it really was a stiff, cold body, the body is gone. Was there a body or was this all part of Colonel Andrews's Bloody Murder game?
Charlotte enlists the help of her "brother" Eddie and the two sneak around the property, intent on finding the truth. Unfortunately, there's somebody who doesn't want Charlotte to find out the truth, somebody who will kill to keep her quiet.
Who can Charlotte trust? Will she find romance during her stay? Most importantly, will she stay alive?
This plot by Shannon Hale was wonderful! The characters were alive on the page and I didn't want the book to end, although I did want to find out the truth. I'm planning on re-reading this one because it was just that good.
My final recommendation:1. Watch Austenland: The Movie
2. Read Austenland: A Novel (if you want) or just skip to
3. Read Midnight in Austenland: A Novel
Austen fans will NOT be disappointed!