Movie Review of Austenland (2013)

by JoHarrington

A woman obsessed with Jane Austen novels spends her life savings on a total Regency immersion trip. Will she find her Mr Darcy, or will reality trump all?

I really enjoyed 'Austenland'. I was genuinely sorry when the closing credits signaled that the film was over.

There is no Earthly reason why this should be the case. Romantic movies genuinely bore me stupid, and I hate Jane Austen novels with a passion. Therefore a romantic movie for Jane Austen fans held no major promise for me.

I'm so glad that I overcame my (pride and) prejudices to watch it though. If Jane Austen stories were like this movie, I'd probably read them too!

Forget Mr Right, Jane Wants Mr Darcy or No-one!

This isn't a period movie, nor is it an adaptation of a Jane Austen novel. It's about a modern day woman who wants her life to resume back in the Regency period.

Image: Jane and Martin in AustenlandThirty something New Yorker Jane is obsessed with the world depicted in her favorite novels by Jane Austen. And by obsessed, I mean absolutely and unequivocally fanatical.

She's never been successful in romance, because none of the men in Manhattan match up to Mr Darcy. Particularly Colin Firth's portrayal of the character. She has a life-sized cardboard cut-out of him in her living room.

All around her, pregnant friends and unsuitable potential partners keep telling her that the clock is ticking. If she doesn't settle down soon, then there will be no happy after ever.  Jane would rather read her book.

But then there is a possible avenue for romance that's right up her sweeping Regency avenue. A themed vacation at Austenland promises to immerse her into the world of Jane Austen. Love affair guaranteed.

Jane spends her life savings to fly to England for the opportunity of a lifetime. She knows well enough that the romance is scripted. Every guest will be engaged by the end of the week. It's listed in the selling point features of the trip. That's not really why she's there.

It's to see if living the life and encountering the 'real' Mr Darcy would really be what it's cracked up to be in the novels. Her best friend Molly reckons not. Then Jane might lower her standards and give real men a chance.

Life is often stranger than fiction.  The actor playing the Darcy-esque role does so perfectly, yet Jane cannot lower her expectations enough to even embrace him.  It seemed that Molly was right all along.

Then again, outside the formal constraints of the Regency drawing room there's a gardener looking after the estate, and he is very lovely indeed.

Official Trailer for Austenland (2013)

Buy Austenland on DVD

The Merging of Reality and Fiction in Austenland

There is a strong theme running through Austenland. It plays out as an undercurrent throughout every plot and sub-plot.

The movie explores what it means to be living in a fantasy land. Even if you know the difference between what's real and made up, that hankering for the latter will never end well.

Jane is a thoroughly modern woman. She's not adverse to finding a life partner, but neither does she seem desperate to rush into relationships. If needful, she could remain single forever.

But her not-so-secret fantasy life does revolve around recreating the Regency period, insofar as possible in today's New York City. And she really would like Mr Darcy to turn up sometime soon.

Within hours of her wishes coming true, Jane realized that she didn't want any of that at all. The reality of the Regency period was as constricting as her newly donned corset. The formality drove her crazy.

What she really wanted was to read Jane Austen novels, not live them.

Then there was the whole acting versus real love scenario. All around her people were being paid to flirt with her. Good-looking gentlemen treated her with all the courtesy due a Regency lady, but it meant nothing when it wasn't real.

It took someone breaking all of the rules, letting the 21st century peep back through the cracks, to make Jane know what real life was all about.

I really enjoyed exploring this theme with her. After all, we've all had our fictional fantasy figures over the years (yes, we're looking at you Jamie Fraser), but nothing on Earth beats reality.

Watch Austenland on Amazon Instant Video

Why was I Watching Austenland?

Given that I've no love for Jane Austen myself, and I'd rather watch a horror than a romantic movie, you may wonder why I was watching this.

I misread the box. I thought that it was a time travel film.

I spent the first third of the movie waiting for the moment when the space-time continuum went all wibbly, and Jane found herself back in the Regency period for real. I thought that would be quite fun, but it didn't happen.

That was my misunderstanding. But by then I was well and truly hooked on the plot playing out before me.

Austenland is a romantic film that you can watch with non-romantic people, and it will charm them too.  I know because I am one, and it did.

Austenland DOES Pass the Bechdel Test (hands down)

The Bechdel Test evaluates the role of women in movies. A depressing number of them fail even that ridiculously low bar, but not 'Austenland'!

Image: Austenland ladiesTwo or more named female characters need to have a conversation with each other. The subject cannot be a male character.

That is all that's needed to pass the Bechdel Test and Austenland succeeds within the opening scenes.

Before Jane has even left New York, she and her friend Molly discuss finances, the Regency period and, of course, Jane Austen.

But that isn't all. As the movie progresses, there are dozens of named female characters - four amongst the main cast alone - and they have many conversations which don't mention the gentlemen around them.  (And a lot more which do!)

You could take your pick amongst several scenes, which would all individually stand to hurtle well over the low bar of the Bechdel Test.  It was very well done!

Romantic Novels for Jane Austen Fans

These modern day ladies would love a bit of Regency action, particularly if it came in the form of Colin Firth.
Austenland: A Novel

Jane is a young New York woman who can never seem to find the right man - perhaps because of her secret obsession with Mr. Darcy, as played by Colin Firth in the BBC adaptation of...

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Midnight in Austenland

Charlotte Kinder is in need of true escape when she heads from Ohio to Pembrook Park, a Jane Austen-themed retreat in the British countryside. But as it turns out, this vacation...

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A Weekend with Mr. Darcy

PRAISE FOR VICTORIA CONNELLY: "Witty and original. " -The Romantic Novelists' Association Of course she's obsessed with Jane Austen...Surrounded by appalling exes and fawning st...

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Me and Mr. Darcy: A Novel

Dreams come true in this hilarious, feel-good fairy tale about life, love, and dating literature’s most eligible bachelor! After a string of disastrous dates, Emily Albright deci...

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Pride and Precipice

In this modern re-telling of Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth Bennet is a general contractor specializing in the restoration of historic homes. When she and her sister Jane are ta...

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Modern adaptation of Jane Austen's 'Pride and Prejudice'.

View on Amazon

Updated: 02/13/2014, JoHarrington
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JoHarrington on 02/10/2014

But aren't you a big Austen fan? Maybe you should be the one watching it, then letting us know!

Mira on 02/09/2014

Right :D

JoHarrington on 02/09/2014

Mira - Austenland was written by Jane Austen fans FOR Jane Austen fans. There were probably a million references that I completely missed. The movie was pretty much a homage to the Austen fandom, so hopefully they'd love it.

JoHarrington on 02/09/2014

Ember - It was a weirdly interesting movie. Absolutely no reason why it would appeal to me, other than the fact that it was great story-telling with wonderful actors.

Part of the joy of losing yourself in a good book (or movie) is imagining yourself there. Naturally that can spill over into comparing it unfavorably with reality in general terms too.

Mira on 02/09/2014

Jane Austen fans can be quite fierce. I wonder what they'll make of this movie :). Thanks for the review.

Ember on 02/08/2014

This sounds like a weirdly interesting movie. I'll have to check it out. I know the idea of living in a fantasy land, and knowing it would never quite being what your imagination makes it out to be, anyways :c

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