By Oliver Lyttelton | www.oliverlyttelton.com July 6, 2011 at 1:23AM
'Twilight' Author Stephenie Meyer Producing, 'Napoleon Dynamite' Co-Writer Jerusha Hess Making Directorial Debut
If you've been feeling a strange, nagging void in the part of your soul where you keep your love for costume drama, there's a reason for that: we've somehow gone four years without a major Jane Austen-centered movie. Sure, Bollywood flick "Aisha" borrowed the plot of "Emma," and "From Prada to Nada" was (very) loosely based on "Sense & Sensibility," but given the wealth of adaptations, and even biographical entries like "Becoming Jane" and "Miss Austen Regrets" that appeared in the middle of the last decade, it doesn't quite compare.
Never fear, however: "Pride & Prejudice & Zombies" is finally creaking forward (assuming it can find a lead, Emma Stone having turned the project down recently), and now a contemporary rom-com riffing on the legendary author is just getting underway. The Hollywood Reporter brings news that filming starts this week on "Austenland," an adaptation of the novel by Shannon Hale, which marks the directorial debut of Jerusha Hess.
If Hess rings a bell, it's because she's the wife and writing partner of Jared Hess, the pair having worked together on "Napoleon Dynamite," "Nacho Libre" and "Gentlemen Broncos," but she's going solo for this project, having co-written the script with Hale. The plot involves a single woman in her thirties whose love life has been ruined by her obsession with Austen's creation Mr. Darcy, the romantic lead in "Pride & Prejudice." She spends her life savings on a trip to the U.K. to visit Austenland, a theme park catering to fellow obsessives, and meets an actor there more than a little reminiscent of her love.
"Felicity" star Keri Russell takes the lead, while rising star J.J. Feild, who'll next be seen as Union Jack in "Captain America: The First Avenger" (and has Austen cred, playing Henry Tilney in an ITV adaptation of "Northanger Abbey" opposite Felicity Jones and Carey Mulligan a few years back) will play her love interest. Christopher Guest veteran Jennifer Coolidge will play a crude American tourist, while "Flight of the Conchords" star Bret McKenzie, veteran actress Jane Seymour ("Wedding Crashers"), Rupert Vansitartt, who appeared in the BBC "Pride & Prejudice" with Colin Firth, and "Battlestar Galactica" star James Callis are also on board the cast.
Perhaps most importantly for a certain segment of the audience, the producer is someone who knows more than a little about writing literary figures that millions are obsessed with: "Twilight" author Stephenie Meyer is making her producing debut, financing the film through her company, Fickle Fish Films, having called the book on its jacket "Adorable! This is the best tribute to obsessed Austen freaks (like me) that I've ever read."
We're far from convinced yet: the cast is faintly promising, but the material sounds like it has a real of risk of being patronizing, and Hess' writing work is fairly infuriating. But if she can break away from the insular tweeness of "Napoleon Dynamite," maybe the film will turn out more "Bridget Jones' Diary" than, well, "Bridget Jones: The Edge Of Reason." The film's shooting now in the U.K, and, as long as distributors pick it up, we should see it sometime in 2012.