The life of a Jane Austen video completist is not easy. Yes, it’s true that in the service of her mission – to see and, ideally, to own every Austen-related film adaptation – she scales the heights of the Emma Thompson Sense and Sensibility and the Firth/Ehle Pride and Prejudice.
But she must also plumb the depths. She must wade, at least once, through the tedious and confusing Jane Austen in Manhattan. She must tolerate the saccharine perkiness of Scents and Sensibility. And, I report with sorrow, she must grit her teeth through the deeply annoying Unleashing Mr. Darcy.
I’ll admit that my expectations were low. The TV movie Unleashing Mr. Darcy is based on a mediocre P&P update that mostly abandons Austen’s clever, economical plotting in favor of an incoherent series of relationship reversals (They’re fighting! Oh, now they’re having totally amazing sex! Wait, they’re fighting again!) that set the reader’s head a-spinning.
But as my teenage daughter and I tuned to the Hallmark channel and settled down with our popcorn on Saturday night, I was cautiously optimistic that a good screenwriter and a couple of decent actors could fix the problems. Plus, the story is set in the dog-show world, which guarantees cute-animal overload.
Alas. Let’s just say that, pace Jane Austen, sometimes first impressions are entirely accurate. My daughter’s off-the-cuff review pretty much sums it up: “Wow. I don’t think that had any redeeming features.”
Rich-guy dog-show judge Donovan Darcy is played by Ryan Paevey, a model and soap-opera actor with the bland handsomeness and charisma-free personality you’d expect from such a resume. Spunky dog-owner Elizabeth Scott is played by Cindy Busby, a TV actress with a startling talent for seeming shrill and irritating in every scene, whether she’s enacting tearful, joyful, or outraged.
And the writing! Ouch. Apologizing for her (entirely unmotivated) rudeness to Darcy, Elizabeth explains, “I was upset about other reasons.” Who talks like that? The occasional Austen lines land with a thud, completely out of place in their surroundings. Even the actors seem confused. “My good opinion once lost is lost forever,” Darcy tells Elizabeth, pretty much out of the blue, early in their acquaintance. “What does that mean, exactly?” she asks. “Nothing,” he replies.
These two are so charmless that it’s difficult to understand what they see in each other, beyond her generic blondness and his sculpted abs, which we inspect during a gratuitous bathing-suit scene that is probably meant to evoke Firth’s wet shirt. (Note to writers: It’s bad strategy to remind viewers of much, much better Austen adaptations.) Presumably in order to keep its TV-G rating, the movie reworks the (terrible) plot of the original into an (equally terrible) version that omits the hot-and-heavy makeout sessions and full-on sex scene that, in the book, at least offer some clue to what’s driving this relationship.
And don’t expect to divert yourself from the trainwreck by ogling the beautiful grounds of Pemberley: the scene has been moved from England to (a poor facsimile of) New York City, and the production values are strictly bargain-basement. “Come and stay with me in my brownstone,” a friend tells Elizabeth, who soon shows up on the doorstep of. . . a house that, with its wide porch and brick facings, resembles no urban brownstone I’ve ever seen.
Yes, there are canine cameos, mostly by terriers and Cavalier King Charles spaniels. They’re adorable, of course. But even the cute pooches can’t save this dog.
Apr 16 2016 04:54AM by Lana
Great recap! I too watched and found both leads horrible actors who couldn't carry the storyline. They also had no chemistry together to sell this story. And the dialogue was clunky and unnatural. Many times I found myself saying, "Who talks like that!" Lol at the brownstones that looked nothing like brownstones. And the pool scene during what was clearly fall weather.
Apr 16 2016 11:45PM by Deborah Yaffe
Yeah, this one was definitely a loser. If only the money that went into these terrible Austen spinoffs was instead spent on a really definitive version of Mansfield Park. . .
Jan 21 2020 02:06AM by ginger
OMG! I completely agree. I really hated Cindy Busby's character. I honestly don't know if it was the acting, writing or both. It could have been good if the characters were likable. Ugh. Thank you for posting!
Jan 21 2020 06:04PM by Deborah Yaffe
I vote for both! Thanks for reading. . .
May 23 2020 02:08PM by Elaine
Of course somebody can talk like that when they are in love. It's the inner conflict, the person knows that the atraction is the drive but don't want to admit, that's why is complicated. Just who once loved for real, know what I'm talking about. Both don't make sense because they having been struck by the cupid arrow, camon people wake up, you can not control love! That's the beauty, love is unperfect, but it's perfect in its unperfection. The viewers have to "read in between the lines". Well done!
May 23 2020 05:49PM by Deborah Yaffe
Thanks for commenting!