A “What If” That Satisfies
What if Jane Austen had written her own autobiography? What if one of her novels, Pride and Prejudice, bore some slight resemblance to a flirtation that occurred one social season in her own life where she had to deal with the issues of romance versus duty? What if the primary reason that Jane Austen remained single for her entire short life was that she had truly loved only one man and had lost him for noble reasons? Becoming Jane is a fictionalized biopic that poses and answers these “what ifs” in a thoroughly believable and pleasing fashion.
As the movie opens, it is 1795 and Jane Austen is a very feisty 20-year-old who dreams of bucking societal norms and marrying for love. She is also on her way to becoming a writer who voices her opinion of class, marriage, and social standing with great wit. Her abilities as a writer and her abnormal dreams of romance put her at odds with her mother who is trying her best to arrange a suitable marriage with the nephew of a local and very wealthy aristocrat, Lady Gresham.
Into the melee strides a young, roguish, penniless law student named Tom Lefroy and the sparks begin to fly—first in antagonism, then in affection and love. Both Jane and Tom are evenly matched in intelligence, wit, and lively repartee, making their every encounter fascinating to observe. As their feelings for each other deepen, the tension around them grows until they are forced to make the only choice that will not compromise everything in life that matters—family, friends, and fortune.
Becoming Jane is an absolute delight in which to get lost for a few hours. Director Julian Jarrold restores my belief that there are people with largely television backgrounds who are capable of translating their talent to the big screen and who love their work so much that it becomes art. Adoration is written all over this film, whether for the beauty of the woods and exteriors of manor houses or the soft morning light filtering through a window to catch the bowed head of young Jane as she writes while the rest of the household sleeps. Jarrold frames his shots for maximum impact but also gently pulls away to give the overall context its due, creating seamless transitions and a delightful and honest portrayal of the time period in all aspects.
Another ace for this movie is the quality of its cast. The chemistry between Anne Hathaway and James McAvoy (as Jane and Tom) is absolute magic—pure, clear, believable, and stunning. That in itself would make the movie good, but the fact that the entire cast fits together makes the movie great. No one is miscast, down to the walk-ons, and no one is off-key at any time. Here is another clear entry for that new Oscar I would like to see—Best Ensemble Cast.
I believe that Jane Austen would be proud of this screenplay. Writers Sarah Williams and Kevin Hood have captured Austen’s voice completely and the movie looks, feels, and sounds as if it were adapted from a novel that she had written. Not only do the two recreate the pride and prejudice of the age to perfection, they do it with the perfect mix of humor, pathos, and characterization that Austen attained in her novels.
Becoming Jane is fully completed in the exploration of the central moral dilemma: Will fear defeat even the strongest person’s determination to refuse to be pressed into a societal mold? Is it better to be safe at all costs or to be happy? Social orders exist even in our own country today and money often pays the piper by making our decisions for us.
It has been a long time since there has been a good period romance made, and Becoming Jane is excellent! It harkens back to the excellent adaptation of Sense and Sensibility that Emma Thompson won an Oscar for in 1995, and will make a great escape from the sweltering dog days of August!
Becoming Jane is rated PG for “brief nudity and mild language.” The brief nudity is the display of the backsides of McAvoy and a friend as they run into a pond. The language is of the period and not even noticeable. However, this is an adult movie that would be a total bore to children under 18. Hey! An adult movie that doesn’t cause embarrassment while sitting next to a stranger!
Courtesy of a local publicist, Kathy attended a press screening of Becoming Jane.