If you are a fan of Jane Austen's work, skip this review. If you continue reading, you will find a review of a partly factual/partly fictional romantic period drama focusing on a small part of Jane Austen's life.
You will also find a movie review written by someone who knows nothing about Jane Austen and has never read any of her novels or other writings (at least not that I can remember). I did see the Bollywood-style take on Pride and Prejudice called Bride and Prejudice, though I doubt that counts. Becoming Jane is the new film in question, and I left the screening conflicted.
Becoming Jane is a movie that features some fantastic shots, a middling romance, good performances, and a sleep-inducing pace. I wanted to like the movie. Both Anne Hathaway (as Jane) and James McAvoy (as would-be suitor Tom Lefroy) are good.The supporting cast is also quite good, in particular Maggie Smith as the superior Lady Gresham.
The cinematography also offers up some great shots, such as when Jane is walking along a beach (viewed from a distance), and the gritty Fight Club-style underground boxing matches that Lefroy likes to engage in. Despite all there is to like, the screenplay moves at a snail's pace and fails to really deliver any insight. I feel as if I have seen this story before, and done better than it is here.
We first meet Jane sitting in a window in the early morning, apparently suffering from a bit of writer's block. She works through this by letting loose her creative juices on a piano, much to the chagrin of the rest of her family so early in the morning. While Jane longs to put creative thought to blank page, her mother (Julie Walters) wishes she would find a husband and marry into some money. This while her father (James Cromwell) says she should follow her heart; money will bring comfort, but it will not fill a heart.
Tom Lefroy is a poor young lawyer, with a reliance on an allowance from his uncle. In an effort to help him get his head on straight, he is sent to spend time with relatives in the country. It is during this supposedly head-clearing trip that he encounters Jane.
At first, it is clear that the two are at odds in their outlook. In movie talk, that means they will end up being madly attracted to each other. Anyway, the relationship is not one smiled upon by their respective families. Jane's mother wishes her to marry into wealth (the family was suffering financial woes), while Lefroy's uncle will not consent to him marrying a country girl. Then there is Lady Gresham, a lonely woman who believes she is above everyone when it comes to deciding what is best for all around her. She wishes Jane to accept the pending proposal from her nephew, Mr. Wisley.
It is my understanding that the romance that is depicted is more speculation than anything else. There is a factual basis in the mention of Lefroy in a pair of letters to Jane's older sister, Cassandra (Anna Maxwell Martin), however, the details are not known. This allows screenwriters Kevin Hood and Sarah Williams room to play with what may have happened. They use elements of her novels as the seeds of the story. In a way they reverse engineer her writings to create potential inspirations from her real life. This may be pretty close, as most authors take cues from their real life for their writing. It would not be much of a stretch to assign Austen's narrative elements to pieces of her life in the search to fill in what she was like.
My conflicted feelings are too hard to ignore. I wanted to like the film, and by and large the performances are good. The failure lies in the hands of the screenwriters and on the shoulders of director Julian Jarrold. The screenplay fails to offer anything of real interest, and the direction is straightforward and just a little plain. It is a tale of unfulfilled potential.
Bottom line. A costume drama that fails to rise above the level of mediocrity. Despite the pretty images, and strong performances, I found myself fighting the oncoming of sleep for much of the runtime. If you are a fan of Austen, you will likely enjoy this much more than I. Still, it is a film that doesn't deliver on its romantic premise.