Regency House Party - The Dating Game Meets Jane Austen

May 18, 2008 (Updated May 24, 2009)
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Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:attention to detail in the setting, characters do try to stay in-period

Cons:lackluster romances, no attention to the staff, no follow-up

The Bottom Line: Weak and strong points abound in this reality show setting singles in the time period of Jane Austen's novels.

PBS entered the reality show craze with a series of specials taking people from the modern day and having them try to live during a particular time period. This included losing the modern conveniences we take for granted as well as the way they dressed. Regency House Party is a bit different from other shows in the “house” series. What made it different than the others are the real-life implications. The ten people who are brought together truly are singles looking for romance and possible mates. At the same time, they are playing roles as if they are fictional characters. It has the potential to be very confusing.

Ten single mean and women arrive in Kentchurch to experience what life was like in 1811. This was how single people from families found their spouses, and it had more to do with one's social status than it did with love and romance.

The first to arrive are the men. They are given a variety of characters in a variety of social standings. Some of them are based on their family lineage - one who's ancestor fought with Nelson is given the role of a Navy Captain.

The party is presided over by a host, the home's owner. Since the men back then couldn't be trusted, there was also a hostess of mature years who presided over the nine-week slumber party. All of the ladies arrive with chaperones. These chaperones are the ones who try to turn the situation to their advantage, knowing that if they make a good match for their charge, they will get a bonus. In some cases, they can get a bonus from the man's family as well.

As usual, the situation seems harder for the women than the men. One woman, who is an heiress in real life, rebels almost instantly at the way she is treated. She likens it to being treated like a child and is rude to the hostess. The men, meanwhile, are having a high time. They are oblivious to what's going on in the rest of the house. In the second half, an heiress is added to the house. This displaces everyone else as she is at the top of the proverbial food chain.

However, most of it is just spent showing how they lived. There doesn't seem to be the same drive to land a mate that many of us have come across in the Jane Austen novels of the same time period. Even though they have been sent two hundred years into the past, the modern values are still there. The women don't feel like they have to have a good marriage to further their station in life. The romance on all fronts seems to be lackluster. I didn’t really find myself rooting for or against anyone. In fact, with the spacing between viewing the two discs in this set, I almost forgot who some of the people were.

I did find that the people did, in general, stay true to their characters more than other shows like this. The women didn’t start throwing off the clothes and walking around in their undergarments. The men didn’t feel the need to break rules and find entertainment elsewhere. Everything they did was true to the time period, even if it was something daring and against the law for the time period.

Things that are questionable do occur, and the narration provides the answers for how it fits into the time period. Overall, I felt the narration was quite good and gave a lot of background and history to what's happening. It's easy to understand. Some of the narration pointing out what is being done wrong is done by a woman in a scolding tone, which is something different from other shows in this series.

There are a few things missing. The servants in the house are just there, essentially. They aren’t a part of the show, although they are in costume and working just the same. I would have liked to have learned more about these people as well and heard their behind-the-scenes opinions of what was going on with the lead characters.

There’s also no "after the Regency House" telling us if any of the couples found romance away from the show as well. It seemed to be intimated throughout that some of these people were looking for that, but near the end it seems like the subject is dropped. The hook-ups seemed to happen for the sake of the story being told, although one couple does take it to another level. The follow-up would have definitely completed the show much better.

I enjoyed Regency House Party quite a bit. There were some issues and the cast wasn’t quite as engaging as other casts. Perhaps that is better in some ways as we get less of the interpersonal drama and more of the setting of the time period. I think the show could have had more depth and been more complete with more details and perspectives, but overall it was very entertaining. Particularly if you are a fan of the novels of Jane Austen, I think you will enjoy this quite a bit.

Reviews of other DVDs in the PBS House series:

1900 House ~ 1940’s House ~ Colonial House Frontier House  ~ Manor House ~ Texas Ranch House

© 2008 Patti Aliventi

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