Starring Mallory Jansen and Will Kemp
Eloise (Jansen) is a serious scholar who’s attending the Jane Austen League of America conference, where she’ll deliver the keynote address. She’s greeted by the guest-of-honor liaison, Sam (Kemp). As the conference’s official Mr. Darcy, he’s decked out in Regency-era garb. Eloise is irritated by his silly Darcy schtick and not interested in the conference’s scheduled recreational activities, especially learning English country dances from him. When Sam sees Eloise trying to impress his aunt, Dr. Jennings (Carolyn Scott), who’s looking to fill a prestigious position at Princeton, he offers to help Eloise land the job. To achieve this goal, however, Eloise needs to show the professor she can loosen up. Sam assists her with this, but stepping out of her comfort zone strains their relationship.
This movie is the first of Hallmark’s four Loveuary movies, which all have a Jane Austen theme.
The leads. Jansen, who resembles Audrey Hepburn, was perfect as practical Eloise. Despite being a Jane Austen scholar, Eloise was anything but a romantic. And although she was comfortable speaking from behind a lectern, she otherwise avoided the spotlight. She was afraid of her emotions, terrified of letting loose in case she appeared foolish. Eloise’s foil was lighthearted Sam, brilliantly played by Kemp, who was last seen as the phony count in A Not So Royal Christmas (2023). Kemp couldn’t have been more elegant and charming if he’d tried. Sam was a shy tech nerd, but playing Mr. Darcy made him more extroverted. But his joking around was a defense that hid his deeper emotions. Eloise handled her emotions by being rigid, while Sam did it through humor. Like Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet of Pride and Prejudice, they each got in their own way when it came to romance. As Sam coaxed Eloise out of her shell, they developed an attraction. An effortless rapport between the leads in Paging Mr. Darcy was apparent in every line of dialogue and every glance they exchanged. The actors made the most of the witty script by Reina Hardy. Their powerful chemistry was a joy to watch throughout, especially when Sam took Eloise out to the garden and taught her to dance and she started opening up to him.
A tale of two sisters. Eloise’s younger sibling, Mia (Lillian Doucet-Roche), showed up in tears at the conference after breaking up with her accountant boyfriend, Rob (Robert Notman). Yes, he’d proposed, but he hadn’t been the least bit romantic, Mia complained. The impulsive, flighty younger sister who’s a hopeless romantic and needs to be taken care of by the sensible older sister appears in Sense and Sensibility, and in an over-the-top, hilarious performance, Doucet-Roche parodied this type. Mia’s emotions were volatile indeed: hysterics following the breakup, fury at Rob when he appeared unexpectedly during lawn bowling, and squealing glee during his proposal at the ball. Though Mia frustrated Eloise, I noticed moments when Eloise envied her. Did you notice how her face fell while she watched Mia and Sam kiss during the play? Though she knew they were only acting, Eloise wished she could have been in Mia’s shoes, and so free to express emotion.
The crisis. When Mia openly pushed for Dr. Jennings to hire Eloise, this sparked a crisis. Eloise angrily confronted her sister for blowing her chances of getting the job. Eloise also blasted her because she was weary of being the responsible sister and having to put Mia back together every time she fell apart. By the elevator, Sam found Eloise in a foul mood and asked if it was because she’d wanted to participate in the play. She explained yet again that she hated being the center of attention. Feeling he’d pushed Eloise too far, Sam backed off. He was relieving her of any further obligations to him, he said. Most poignantly, he added that he didn’t want to dance with anyone who didn’t want to dance with him. The scene was beautifully acted. His expression said he was yearning for her to contradict him, and hers said she wanted to but couldn’t bring herself to do it. Their faces expressed more about how they felt about one another than words could have. The crisis gave this otherwise light movie emotional heft.
A gorgeous ending. As Eloise prepared to deliver her speech at the ball, Rob, dressed like a Regency-era gentleman, swept Mia off her feet with a romantic proposal. This was another nod to Pride and Prejudice, for in the novel, Mr. Darcy surreptitiously arranges for Elizabeth Bennet’s sister Lydia to marry her sweetheart, Wickham. Here it was Sam who secretly orchestrated Rob’s proposal. After learning of Sam’s act of kindness, Eloise saw him as more than a charming guy in a hat and breeches—to her, he was now a man of substance. And she had changed. In her keynote address, she spoke of the need to risk being a fool in order to become a heroine, and so she danced with Sam and they shared a magical kiss. What a fitting conclusion to a delightful film!
My grade for Paging Mr. Darcy: A+
Caroline Kaiser is a professional book editor who specializes in fiction and memoirs, and she’s been guiding writers toward publication since 2007. Caroline is also the author of two ghostly mystery novels, Virginia’s Ghost and The Spirits of South Drive. Before she embarked on an editing and writing career, she spent many years working in a Toronto auction house as an antiques appraiser. Apart from curling up on the couch and drinking tea as she watches Hallmark movies, Caroline enjoys baking and exploring London, Ontario, the picturesque city she now calls home. Her website is www.carolinekaisereditor.com.