Becoming Jane- Julian Jarrold
When this was about to come out there was this buzz among Austen lovers. I’m reviewing this not because it is a remaking/repackaging/restyling of P&P but because it is, in essence, a film that speculates about the inspiration for the book, or First Impressions (as Austen originally entitled it). I waited a long time for this film, despite having a deep-seeded dislike for Anne Hathaway (the doe-eyed, disney-princess), and when I finally managed to sit down to it I was surprised.
It was not what I expected. The casting felt all wrong. I couldn’t imagine a Jane like this. However, that being said, it was a good movie with some nice throw-backs to how this sort of love, the type that P&P and countless other novels are based on, can exist (but that it can have a bit of a miserable ending). The costuming was, doubtlessly, fantastic, and even Hathaway had a quirky-rebellious side to her that was refreshing. What was the real let down, however, was the representation of Austen as having a low standard of propriety and being insolent. Jarrold could have done with allowing us to like her first, and THEN having her go on to be difficult and unappreciative.
Having the extremely recogniseable Hathaway as the lead is an interesting choice. Having a new actress might have been better, and easier to watch. That said, despite my hatred of Hathaway as mentioned before, she is a charming person (despite the poor acting!) and I love her on Letterman talking about her experiences on the set of Becoming Jane.
I liked seeing little ideas for all the novels in this piece, however I found that the P&P angle that it was pushing just didn’t work (I think this was a characterisation flaw as all the other circumstances would have been decent enough), and that caused it to fall a little flat when she finally throws her heart and soul into writing this story about a man. There were some nice gems of quotes in there, and some interesting reflections on how propriety can hinder creativity, and the balance between experienced, impropriety and ignorance can be an important thing to consider when thinking about one’s work.
There are some obvious head nods to P&P such as: The original dislike between Jane and Mr Lefroy, the Mr. Wisely/ Mr. Collins proposal, the parents a bit and… nope, that’s about it.
Tom Lefroy is no dashing Mr. Darcy (although there are minor explanations for why certain changes have been made- and of course made to make the characters happiness securable). McAvoy irritates in this role and he is patronizing and demeaning, even when they get over their initial dislike of one another.
As a historical work- having Lefroy and Jane have this sort of encounter seems to be the workings of someone’s mind in Hollywood, or a ridiculously energetic gossip, rather than anything Regency England could have coughed up, although the rest of the movie seems to be fairly accurate to the time and place. However, although there have been suggestions of this romance prior to the film it is more the manner of it that irritates me. The Jane Austen whose voice is in the novels I love best could never (in my mind, forgive me) do these things. I did see a bit of the “real” Jane I had always imagines when she discovers Tom’s situation, and this was a great moment. I was also fairly taken aback by the misery shown in what is packaged up in the advertisments to be a bit of a chick flick, but this definitely was a plus and not a negative!
It is quite an emotional film, and the unrequited love theme that seems to run throughout is painful and yet thrilling- so from an emotive viewpoint it did its job. Yet I believe this film has set itself up for failure. By focussing on the life of a woman who (I believe) has shaped romantic comedies, literature and many women’s lives you open yourself up for an abundance of disgruntled fans. Everyone has their own viewpoint of who Jane is. Most people like to imagine themselves as similar to her (or one of her heroines). As one film can never fit these expectations, I do have a certain amount of sympathy for it, and realise that a lot of my own irritations about it are basically from a crazy fans perspective. But surely they took this challenge on knowingly?
“It’s sort of like taking the worst, most boring, parts of Austen’s novels and combining them to make a movie,” a friend of mine said after her second viewing (apparently she still liked it).
As a film, it was a decent watch. I’m just a bit let down in terms of the P&P angle that was promoted a lot, and in regards to the believability. Despite some of the lines being gorgeous- so much of it was hollywood-esque (even though the scenery was deliberately set somewhere a bit rougher looking in Ireland to avoid this). So… an English Regency piece filmed in the 21st Century in Ireland with an American lead? Not ideal.
Dishonourable mention: Hathaway’s PAINFUL English accent. Honestly, cast a Brit. If you want an authentic English actress, then get the real thing!