While it may be true that every little girl dreams of finding her prince one day, there is another whole group of fanatic Jane Austen fans who are willing to forswear their prince if they can only latch on to their very own Mr. Darcy. If you are among the latter group, we have a date-night movie for you: “Austenland,” which is opening in theaters in New York and Los Angeles on August 16 before going nationwide.
Based on the novel by Shannon Hale, “Austenland” is a romantic comedy that tells the tale of Jane Hayes (Keri Russell), a seemingly normal, single woman in her 30s, who is unwilling to settle. Of course, her need to find the perfect man is driven by her obsession with all things Jane Austen, including, that perfect specimen of manhood known as Mr. Darcy. So what does Jane do? She spends her life savings, packs her bags — costumes included — and heads to England, where there is a resort named “Austenland,” owned by Mrs. Wattlesbrook [Jane Seymour], that caters to women who dream of meeting the ideal, Regency-era gentleman.
“Austenland” appeals to the romantic in all of us, including Russell, who says, “Like Jane in this film, we all have some version of a fantasy that’s easy to escape to, and we all want a real relationship, where there’s a common give-and-take and you’re seen for who you are, and appreciated for that.”
Once at Austenland, it turns out that Jane’s life savings have only purchased her the “copper” package, not the platinum, so while her experience may be a little less grand than that of the other two ladies who are also living out their dream of life in another era — Jennifer Coolidge as Miss Elizabeth Charming and Georgia King as Lady Amelia Heartwright — she does get her fair share of attention from Martin, the stableman (Bret McKenzie), and Mr. Henry Nobley (JJ Field), the Mr. Darcy of our story. “I think [the appeal of Mr. Darcy] has something to do with the whole idea of someone liking you more for the meeting of the minds and this acerbic banter back and forth,” Russell continues. “People still like that. They want to be appreciated — that someone would see through everything — what you dress like or look like — that they just want to know what makes your brain tick. I think that’s always appealing, especially to women.”
As much fun as “Austenland” was to film, there was one drawback: the amount of time it took to get dressed. Of course, the upper classes of women in the Regency era did not work, so the fact that it took them hours to perfect their toilette still left them with hours in the day to be filled with tedious tasks– at least to modern women, which “Austenland” demonstrates.
Russell was several months pregnant when she reported to work for the film, something the voluminous skirts she wore were able to disguise. “Corsets while pregnant was interesting,” says the former “Felicity” star. “Petticoats, lace up boots and tights and then dresses that have laces and hairdos that have braids and buns. No wonder you had maid servants. You couldn’t do it on your own. It takes three hours. It was sort of nice, although time consuming.”
Revealing whether Jane winds up with the proper Mr. Nobley or the more earthy Martin would ruin the plot. So, instead, we asked Russell with so many Mr. Darcy’s to pick from — Laurence Olivier, Colin Firth [he counts double since he also played Mark Darcy in “Bridget Jones’ Diary”], David Rintoul, and Matthew Macfayden — who was her favorite? Her answer was surprising. “Actually, I’m doing this cable show [“The Americans”] right now and, funnily enough, the guy who’s on the show with me [Matthew Rhys] is playing Mr. Darcy, right now, on some BBC thing [“Death Comes to Pemberley,” which will air here in the U.S. on PBS in 2014], so I’ll say him.”
“Austenland,” written and directed by Jerusha Hess, opens in New York and Los Angeles on August 16, prior to going nationwide.
Images courtesy: Sony Pictures Classics