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'Austenland' review: 'Pride and Prejudice? Shame and indifference'

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Director: Jerusha Hess; Screenwriter: Jerusha Hess, Shannon Hale; Starring: Keri Russell, JJ Feild, Jennifer Coolidge, Bret McKenzie, Jane Seymour; Running time: 97 mins; Certificate: 12A


Keri Russell has been a shining light on TV thanks to Felicity and FX's The Americans, but she's never quite managed to catch fire on the big screen. Where Waitress should've provided her with a career springboard, it instead sent her into a series of thankless second-string wife or love interest parts. Russell's name sits above the title in new romantic comedy Austenland, but what a shame then that it's a huge waste of her considerable talents.

Based on Shannon Hale's chick lit novel, it follows an American singleton obsessed with all things Jane Austen who cobbles together her life savings to take a trip to an Austen-themed resort in the UK. Dress up, role play and comical British accents are the order of the day as Jane Seymour's park owner Mrs Wattlesbrook promises romance for all her guests with one of the hired actors to bring this immersive Austen experience to life.

Keri Russell in Austenland
Among the potential suitors are camp as Christmas Colonel Andrews (Battlestar Galactica's James Callis), sailor Captain East (Ricky Whittle), gardener Martin (Bret McKenzie) and Henry Nobley (JJ Feild giving good Darcy), while joining Russell's Jane Hayes in the scrap to secure male attention is Elizabeth Charming (Jennifer Coolidge) and Lady Heartwright (Georgia King).

Director Jerusha Hess's film has a solid cast and nifty premise, but it's sank by some excruciating, over the top mugging (Coolidge and Callis being the main offenders) and a tone that's gently patronising of its target crowd - the hardcore Janeites who'll see Russell as the audience surrogate. Instead of Pride and Prejudice, think shame and indifference.

Austenland is a disappointingly half-baked endeavour across the board. As a comedy it's not funny, as a satire it has no bite, and as a romance it never causes your heart to skip a beat. The characters are cranked up to 11 and as cardboard as the Colin Firth Mr Darcy cutout that lurks creepily in Jane's apartment.

Stephenie Meyer serves as an executive producer on the film, and there's certainly overlap in the doggedly-committed fanbases of Twilight and Austen. Yet Hess and Hale's script gets caught between trying to celebrate all things Austen and critiquing those who shun reality by escaping into fiction. In the end it's a muddled, confused misfire that sails too closely to the well-worn Hollywood rom-com formula, and endlessly assaults the viewer with a series of dumb gags and characters.

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