Hallmark's Paging Mr. Darcy: Ship It Or Skip It

Once again, Hallmark manages to subvert expectations, much like "A Merry Scottish Christmas," which used the backdrop of Scotland to tell a unique tale. Their current 2024 event entitled Loveuary showcases a handful of films based on or inspired by the novels of Jane Austen, and "Paging Mr. Darcy" is a novel approach (pun firmly intended). The film takes place at the Jane Austen League of America Conference, where the main character Professor Eloise Cavendish (Mallory Jansen), an Austen scholar, refers to as a "Comic-Con for Jane Austen fans," provides another unique setting.

She's the keynote speaker for the event, but her underlying goal is to meet the renowned Victoria Jennings (Carolyn Scott), who runs the English department at Princeton. Eloise hopes to get a job there as a professor. Her snobbish attitude makes things uncomfortable when she meets Sam Lee (Will Kemp), the convention's liaison, dressed as Mr. Darcy from "Pride and Prejudice," complete with an authentic British accent. Eloise can't stand the cosplayers attending who are dressed as characters from Austen's books and has issues with being the center of attention unless it's something academic.

She even has trouble participating in activities based on Austen's works. Sam, a self-admitted computer and literature nerd, is shy in real life until he dons the Darcy garb and becomes charming and witty. But as sparks start to fly between them, Sam tries hard to get her to shed her stuffy exterior and enjoy herself.

Several characters have ulterior motives

In "Paging Mr. Darcy," Eloise Cavendish insists that Jane Austen's books are not romance novels and refuses to identify with Elizabeth Bennet, the protagonist in "Pride and Prejudice." There are a lot of references to Austen's works, as well as noting the real-life fandom that continues to treasure the famed author. The story arc between Eloise and Sam parallels that of Elizabeth and Darcy in that they both learn to let go of their hang-ups to find commonality. There's even a fun in-joke for the eagle-eyed viewer when Eloise's sister, Mia Cavendish (Lillian Doucet-Roche), is watching one of the channel's "Mr. Darcy" films starring "General Hospital" alum and Hallmark regular Ryan Paevey.

There's also a subplot involving Mia, in which she's expecting her boyfriend, Rob (Robert Notman), to propose to her. However, when it happens off-screen, Mia breaks things off because the proposal had "No romance in it." She comes to the convention to support Eloise but is also extremely disappointed in Rob, stating, "I'm a romantic; he's an accountant."

Sam Lee also has an ulterior motive because he believes Crispin Crane (David Rosser), a British former actor, is wooing his aunt Victoria Jennings for the professor job at Princeton. This provides the perfect excuse for Sam to try to set things up to put in a good word to his aunt on Eloise's behalf — if she agrees to shed her stuffiness and try to enjoy the fun at the convention.

The film is a delightful story

"Paging Mr. Darcy" is not another by-the-numbers film, but rather, a delightful journey. Eloise initially comes across as snooty, surly, and unlikeable. But when she starts to deny any interest in Sam, it's apparent that there's an attraction there. Actors Mallory Jansen and Will Kemp have real chemistry, and that shows. Early on, Mia tells Eloise, who believes no man can meet her criteria, that she'll someday find someone like Mr. Darcy. When Eloise finally meets Sam in his costume, Mia quips, "They gave you your own personal Mr. Darcy?"

Eloise meets a former student of hers, Jenny (J.D. Leslie), who is putting on her own play about Austen at the event, nicely setting up a meta play-within-the-teleplay. The romance presented is not the typical sappy mess one would expect and is layered within the story nicely. When Sam first meets Eloise, he tells her she must dance with him at the convention's ball, but she pokes fun at his cosplay. He later admits she hurt his feelings and releases her from that obligation, somberly adding, "I don't want to dance with someone who doesn't want to dance with me."

The film nicely presents the Jane Austen fandom without ridiculing it, and by not being a direct adaptation of any of Austen's novels, "Paging Mr. Darcy" exposes younger viewers to the worlds she created and could foster an interest in Austen's works. We say ship it!