Length: 120 minutes
Director: Julian Jarrold (Kinky Boots)
Writers: Kevin Hood and Sarah Williams
Starring: Anne Hathaway, James McAvoy, Maggie Smith, Julie Walters, James Cromwell, Ian Richardson, Sophie Vavasseur, Tom Hollander
Not much is known about Jane Austen’s life- particularly her romantic liaisons. One of her only known (and most famous) suitors was Ireland’s future Chief Justice of the Court of Queen’s Bench, Thomas Lefroy. Most Austen biographers have only Austen’s letters to her sister, Cassandra, to base this evidence on (only two known letters- which Cassandra edited- mention their brief relationship). Lefroy himself in his old age admitted to his nephew that he did have a “boyish love” for her. “Becoming Jane” takes this vague relationship and creates a fictional account of it. As many believe that Lefroy was the basis of “Pride & Prejudice”’s Mr. Darcy, the story here shares a bit of resemblance to Austen’s masterpiece. Austen (Anne Hathaway), at the young age of 21, is part of a large, lower class family. Her mother (Julie Walters) is determined to marry her off to a rich suitor, Mr. Wisley (Laurence Fox) - who Jane is simply not in love in. Through her brother Henry (Joe Anderson), she meets his dear friend Thomas (“Atonement”’s James McAvoy) and its love at first awkward misunderstanding. Lefroy at the time was penniless himself- reliant on his rich uncle (Ian Richardson) to pay his way through law school. Their romance, due to both of their financial situations, was hopeless, but that doesn’t stop them from falling madly in love with each other. The title is fitting as Jane’s relationship with Lefroy begins to mold her as both a woman and an author (during one sleepless night without him, she begins to pen an early draft of “Pride”). It’s clear to see why class and it’s effect on romance played such a large theme in her works. While many Austen fanatics may have trouble with “Becoming Jane”’s obvious historical inaccuracies (many critics did), the film is undeniably made with a deep affection for it’s material and heroine. While director Julian Jarrold is no Joe Wright (who helmed 2005’s excellent “Pride & Prejudice” adaptation), he has made a really beautiful looking movie. It looks just as radiant as “Pride” did. The only thing working against this film is it’s odd change of tone at it’s midway point. It starts as a bouncy romantic-comedy and finishes on a much more sour note (though given the actual historical facts- it was the only way to end it). Still, it’s hard to fault a film as likable as this. Hathaway continues to prove that she is an actress to recognize. She transforms herself into Austen and was probably not given proper credit due to the fact she’s an American playing one of England’s most precious female icons. McAvoy also continues to impress- his gradual transformation of Lefroy as boyish and cocky to a broken man with a heavy heart is just as brilliant as his lauded performance in “Atonement”. Truthfully, if you aren’t a fan of Austen’s, then “Becoming Jane” may not be your cup of tea (got that Mark Twain?), but if you are unfamiliar with her work- it may be a great place to start.