Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Becoming Jane Shines Brightly

Today I took my kids to see Becoming Jane as part of the current MotherTalk review tour. I had wanted to see this film despite my antipathy towards Anne Hathaway as an actress, never mind portraying one of my favorite authors, Jane Austin. I was interested in seeing this fictional backstory of the supposed love affair involving Jane and the dashing young Irish gentleman, Tom LeFroy. In actuality, there was never a love interest between Austin and anyone named Tom LeFroy that any biographer has sanctified, but the tale that Becoming Jane is based upon has been supposed by Austin historians and authors who have gone through her remaining letters and have pulled out this story of unrequited love.

The film was visually a feast of subtle images of English country life. The scenery was lush and green, the manor house of the wealthy patroness portrayed by the wonderful Maggie Smith was exactly how I had always pictured Lady Catherine's house in Pride and Prejudice, and the simple middle class life of Jane was so similar to my imagination's view. It was lovely to look at, a visual masterpiece of the quiet life of rural Hampshire.

Anne Hathaway, not a favorite of mine by any means, did an excellent job as Jane. Her accent was almost flawless, her manner of speech precisely how Jane presented herself in her novels, and her facial expressions and subtle mannerisms spoke volumes about her inner feelings. Hathaway was terrific as Jane Austin, delivering the sparkling dialog with just the right nuances. Although I had a lot of problems with Hathaway's classic beauty, lush lips, gorgeous shiny hair, and pure unblemished skin as Jane, I do realize that people don't want to see a very plain actress with thin pincurls, as Jane actually looked.

James McEvoy as Tom LeFroy was intimated to be the character upon whom Mr Darcy of Pride and Prejudice was based. His acting was even better than Hathaway's, as he portrayed the dashing but slightly tainted Irish gentlemen of little means and large family obligations.

The costumes were well done and particularly lovely for their soft, luscious tones. The production design, sets, and landscapes evoked the best of the English countryside, even though most of the film was actually filmed in Ireland. In addition, the score was particularly charming, with the phrasing of music sounding very historically accurate, and hence payed particularly homage to Austin's novels that often described balls, music, and dance.

Supporting performances by Julie Walters and James (That'll do Pig) Cromwell as Jane's parents were a definite highlight for me, as was Maggie Smith's portrayal of the wealthy but slightly sinister patroness.

Of course there were some questions that remained at the end of the film. Would Austin have passionately kissed LeFroy or agreed to elope with him, knowing that they both had no means to support themselves. Readers of Austin novels know how much emphasis she put on having a small stipend, and making a good and successful marriage. That Austin herself, as well as her sister Cassandra remained unmarried, speaks doubtfully to me that she would ever put herself in such compromising positions.

The final scene in the movie, where time has marched on, Jane is a published author and at a performance of a beautiful woman opera singer, runs into LeFroy after many years apart. He introduces her to his daughter, also named Jane, is a poignant scene with Jane coming to terms with her place as a single woman in society. In actuality, nothing like this ever happened to the real Jane Austin. Because of ill health Jane was moved to Winchester for medical treatment. She died there, from Addison's disease, Friday, July 18th, 1817 at the age of forty-one. Jane Austen was buried in Winchester Cathedral on July 24th, 1817 and mourned by all her family, including her mother and beloved sister Cassandra.

Becoming Jane captures the playful sense of Jane's sharp intellect and even sharper sense of humor. Much of the film is delightfully humorous, especially so if you're familiar with her novels. However, if you are unfamiliar with her 6 published novels (and shame on you if you are!), you can still enjoy the romantic tale of a delightfully spirited young woman stifled by society's rules and her break out to become a successful and much beloved author.

See the film trailer here.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I too love jane Austen but could not read your post due to the fact that you can't spell Austen