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Becoming Jane is a love story which takes place in the late 1800's.
by Robin Rowe on Aug 03, 2007
In Becoming Jane,
the year is 1795 and Jane Austen
is a feisty 20-year-old aspiring writer who dreams of marrying for love. Her
parents (Julie Walters
and James Cromwell)
notice Mr. Wisley
nephew to local aristocratic dragon Lady Gresham
Jane prefers the roguish Tom
Austen is one of the most loved authors in
English literature and there’s much to like about the juicy premise of this
<>Becoming Jane is a
love story between Anne Hathaway
as Jane Austen
and James McAvoy
as the roguish Irish lawyer Tom Lefroy.
Instead of Shakespeare in Love, this
is Jane Austen
in love. In real life, Jane Austen
was a prolific writer of letters. Most of Jane’s
letters were burned by her sister Cassandra late in life. Were Austen’s
Becoming Jane was
shot in Dublin’s unblemished
Georgian architecture, where terraced streets such as Henrietta
Street and landmarks such as City Hall still
retain the essence of 1795. After a lengthy search throughout Ireland,
Higginsbrook House near Trim in County
Meath, a middle-sized home that
dates from 1747, was selected to portray the Austen family
(The Devil Wears Prada and The Princess Diaries) considers Jane
Austen one of her heroes. “I was very
excited to present a woman who was flesh and blood and not simply someone who
had an icy wit and tea running through her veins”, says Hathaway.
“I wanted to show her as a very modern woman, a woman who truly had a sense of
her own worth and seemed to know the value of love, even in those times.”
There’s great chemistry between Anne
Hathaway and Scottish actor James
Last King of Scotland). McAvoy as Tom
Lefroy recommends Jane
broaden her writing horizons by reading the scandalous Tom Jones. McAvoy plays well against Hathaway. “I
don’t think we could have chosen anyone better to play Jane
Austen”, says McAvoy. There are stolen
glances and tantalizingly close encounters, but Becoming Jane draws short of the requited passion of Shakespeare in Love.
Williams and Kevin
Hood took the incident of one of Austen’s
youthful flirtations (revealed in two of her few surviving letters) and turned
it into romantic fiction. “I was so impressed with how intelligently written
the script was and how emotional and passionate it was”, says Hathaway.
“What I also loved about it was that it captured a young couple falling deeply
in love with each other. That appealed to me and also the fact that it didn’t
have a fairytale ending.” Parts of the screenplay are memorable, even
brilliant, yet other places such as the boxing scenes are a miss.
Screenwriter Williams approached producers Douglas
Rae and Robert
Bernstein of Ecosse Films, who had made
another unlikely love story between historical figures for Mrs. Brown with Judi
Dench as Queen Victoria.
The producers chose director Julian
Jarrold, who had directed Kinky Boots, a comedy about a female
impersonator who inspires a shoe factory. Becoming
Jane has the same garish modern look as Kinky
Boots, a look the producers sought to try to re-define what a Jane
Austen movie looks like. The harsh dark
lighting and lensing don’t make the best use of the beauty of Anne
Hathaway. Visually, I expected much more.
And, likewise for the music. Becoming
Jane quite noticeably lacks the sophisticated musical scoring of Pride & Prejudice, of either the movie or the mini-series.
<>The movie trailer would have you believe this is a cheery
romantic comedy, but there’s a deliberate melancholy to Becoming Jane. The middle is cheery and fun certainly, but the
beginning is slow and dark, and the ending more so. This isn’t the kind of
consistently cheery upbeat tale that audiences expect of a modern Jane
Austen film. More in keeping with Charles
Dickens than Jane
Austen, fans are unlikely to appreciate that
this movie is on the dark art house side. Becoming
Jane feels more like the movie Miss
Potter, a movie about the unrequited love of a later popular British
author, Beatrix Potter.
Be prepared for as much of Austen’s gothic novel Northanger Abbey as of Pride & Prejudice.
was more fun-loving than some think. “In some of her own letters she wrote
about how she was hung over after attending a ball and that’s not something
that we necessarily think of when we think about Austen”, says
Hathaway. Ultimately, it isn’t that the movie strays too far
away from what we expect of Jane
Austen, rather that it strays from what we
expect of a Jane Austen
movie. 3 stars ***
Robin Rowe is a journalist, a screenwriter, and co-founder of
the 1,800-member filmmakers association ScreenplayLab.
March 31, 2020