The public's current obsession with the PBS megahit "Downton Abbey" has led to an increase and curiosity of all things British autocrat, circa early 20th century. However, the origin of that regal world can be traced back to the novels of Jane Austen (1775-1817), and include "Emma," "Sense and Sensibility," and "Pride and Prejudice."
"Austenland," an official selection at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival, is an adorable movie that exploits the fanaticism to this land of proper ladies and gentlemen, with distinct social classes, and where love can be both scandalous and humorous.
The directorial debut of Jerusha Hess centers around Jane Hayes (Golden Globe winner Keri Russell), who is unlucky in love, and obsessed with all things Austen. In a desperate attempt to find her fantasy, she sinks all of her savings into a once-in-a-lifetime trip to England to spend an immersive vacation at "Austenland," a themed-land where actors, and the picturesque backdrop of the British countryside, bring Hayes' imaginary world into her real existence for a taste of the early 19th century manorhood. Once abroad, she meets both the rich Mr. Nobly (JJ Feild, inspired by the Mr. Darcy character from "Pride"), and the rebellious stable boy, Martin (Bret McKenzie), who wind up vying for her affection. However, the realities of their courtship become blurry to Hayes, and this is where her real conflicts begin.
Jane Seymour ("Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman") plays the tyrannical overseer of the "experience," and Jennifer Coolidge ("Legally Blonde") is a stitch as the wealthy, over-the-top, fellow American client who is also on the excursion with Russell.
Bonus features include commentary with both Hess and producer Stephenie Meyer (the "Twilight" franchise), and a Q&A segment with the principal actors. "Austenland" is light and engaging and avoids bogging down into melodrama, with enough twists in the plot to prevent even non-Austen fans from dozing off.
Keri Russell, Jennifer Coolidge
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment