Directed by: Julian Jarrold
Premise: A fictionalized portrait of a young Jane Austen (Anne Hathaway), the author of Pride and Prejudice, and her relationship with Tom Lefroy (James McAvoy), an Irish lawyer.
What Works: Becoming Jane is a well-assembled film. It paces very well and has been edited with some interesting transitions and juxtapositions. The most fun will be had by fans of Austen’s books and fans of the better film adaptations of her work. Becoming Jane draws on elements of Austen’s writings, notably her focus on social class conflicts, sisterly relationships, and her sharp wit, and includes these in the story in ways that are not forced and create a credible relationship between Austen’s life as it is portrayed in this film and her body of work. Anne Hathaway is very good as Jane Austen and she has created a version of the character that is both strong and vulnerable. Julie Walters and James Cromwell star as Austen’s parents and the two give the best performances of the entire picture because they are given some of the best material and fill their screen time with subtle character moments that speak volumes.
What Doesn’t: The trouble with Becoming Jane’s approach to Austen as a character is that she is fundamentally the same woman and writer in the beginning that she is in the end. The film points to Pride and Prejudice as born out of her heartache because of her turbulent relationship with Lefroy, but the romance between them does not appear to have changed her as a character or as a writer. There are seeds of a change as Lefroy opens Austen to the rawness of emotional and sexual experience but the story does not germinate these elements to fruition. In fact, the story spends very little time with Austen as a writer, and ultimately it robs her of the credit she deserves for crafting her work. Instead the film spends most of its time on a romance that lacks spark.
Bottom Line: Becoming Jane will be enjoyed most by fans of Jane Austen’s books and related film adaptations. The picture aspires to films like Shakespeare in Love and Quills. It does not reach that level of quality because the love story between Austin and Lefroy lacks emotional weight and Austen’s growth as a woman and as a writer lacks development. The film will play well as a companion piece to 2005’s Pride and Prejudice.
Episode: #158 (September 23, 2007)