Welcome to the first post of JASP's newest blog series, Loveuary and Jane Austen. Over the next few weeks, we will be reviewing Hallmark's four Austen-inspired February releases.
Mallory Jansen and Will Kemp as Eloise and Sam (aka Mr. Darcy) in Paging Mr. Darcy.
We're one week into February, and for many of us the winter weather is still persisting. On cold, dreary weekends what's an Austen fan in a slump to do? Well, (if the novels, unfinished works, or Juvenilia aren't available), watch an Austen-themed movie, of course! Paging Mr. Darcy was released this past Saturday, the first in a set of four films honoring Jane Austen. Armed with a pen, journal, and a steaming mug of tea, I decided to give it a try. For readers who haven't yet viewed the film, let's start with a bit of a synopsis, shall we?
The premise of the movie pulled me in from the start. Eloise Cavendish, a witty, no-nonsense professor and Austen scholar, spends the weekend at a Jane Austen conference, and as Hallmark writes, "strikes a deal with the man playing Mr. Darcy and finds her perspective, and her heart, changed." Sam (the delightful, dressed to the nines Mr. Darcy), and Eloise don't get off on the right foot, but rather in the style of Pride and Prejudice come to make some great personal realizations by overcoming obstacles... together.
First Impressions & Overall Thoughts
In the first few seconds of the film we are introduced to Eloise, on a plane bound for a conference about, you guessed it, Jane Austen. I was immediately intrigued by the fact that the movie was set at the conference, because that doesn’t sound like something we’d like at all. (Wink, wink.) The conference in the film is hosted by the fictional Jane Austen League of America or JALA, for short. Eloise is strictly academic, anti-romance, and doesn't care too much for dancing, dressing up, or being the center of attention. After her plane lands, Eloise is met by Sam, sent by JALA to be her personal conference liaison. Oh, and he's in full Mr. Darcy attire; definitely the center of attention. So begins this delightful romp through familiar Austen-conference territory, with the added bonus that many of the themes represented are prevalent in all of Austen's novels, most notably Pride and Prejudice.
That moment when you notice your conference liaison is wearing a cravat.
Much like in Austen’s novels, there is a thread of miscommunication woven throughout Paging Mr. Darcy. Early in the film Eloise’s sister, Mia, has boyfriend troubles and ends up crashing in her sister's hotel room. But she doesn't stay there for long... hilarity and a fair share of chaos ensue. Or, in other words: tears, drama, and assumptions, oh my! I detected quite the Elinor and Marianne dynamic between the two Cavendish sisters.
There is a fantastic cast of supporting characters, including Dr. Victoria Jennings, Sam's lovely aunt and professor at Princeton, the conference costumier, Mia's dejected would-be fiancé, and one of Eloise's students who creates and directs a theatrical. (Click here to read more about JASP's own theatrical mastermind, Adam McCune.)
In addition to the main plot, there are quite a few subplots that add up to create an immensely enjoyable viewing experience. And while Paging Mr. Darcy is generally comedic and upbeat, it is not without its emotionally charged scenes or serious moments. A lot of attention is paid to how humor can be used to deflect other emotions, with Sam remarking, "Just because someone is joking doesn’t mean they’re not feeling." Wise words from this Mr. Darcy. I think Jane would have approved, being, as she was, so fond of the comedic and satirical, but never shying away from big issues or hard topics.
There are a plethora of witty quips, facts, and direct quotes in the script, and as shared by the film’s screenwriter, Reina Hardy, "There are lots of references—no particularly deep cuts—but definitely things a more casual Austen reader might not catch." (You can read Reina’s full interview with JASNA here.) I think one of the best nods to Austen can be found when Eloise remarks, early on in the film, that Sam is just "breeches and a hat." To me, that seems very reminiscent of Mr. Darcy's initial assessment that Elizabeth Bennet is "...tolerable, but not handsome enough to tempt me." Sam later brings up the breeches and hat comment, adding a barbed spin to the words, in exactly the same fashion as Elizabeth Bennet in the 2005 film adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, in which she later replies to Darcy with, "...even if one's partner is barely tolerable." So good.
This post wouldn't be complete without a few extra fun additions. While dancing and food are far from the main points in Paging Mr. Darcy, I think the subjects are worth mentioning, especially having just wrapped up our event series on The Many Flavors of Jane Austen. If you missed them, all of those events were recorded.
When conference catering doesn't go as planned, Eloise and her personal Mr. Darcy, Sam, fall back on light, simple picnic fare: Syllabub and Shrewsbury Cakes. Perhaps these Regency desserts would also make the perfect movie-watching snacks?
Another fun aspect of the film is the dancing. For viewers who have forayed into the world of English Country Dancing, hearing a familiar dance's name may have brought up memories of enjoyable hours following steps and imagining that you're at Netherfield or the Crown Inn. (Or maybe that's just me...) In the film, there are a few scenes in which characters (namely Sam and Eloise) reference or dance “Mr. Beveridge’s Maggot”, a JASP staple.
If you would like to brush up on your dance steps, here are the instructions!
Before I close, I would like to leave you all with these words from Paging Mr. Darcy's Dr. Jennings:
“If you stumble across a Darcy, grab him. That’s what Jane would have wanted.”
And that's a wrap! If this blog piqued your interest in the film but you missed its premier, never fear. The Hallmark Channel will be showing Paging Mr. Darcy again tomorrow (Thursday) evening at 8/7c. Please let us know your thoughts in the comments, and we'll return next week with a review of Love & Jane.
Here is a helpful graphic with all the film release dates.