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Becoming Jane

2007-10-29 17:48
What it’s about:

It’s 1795 and the 20-year-old Jane Austen (Anne Hathaway) seems to have only two choices: marry well and lift herself (and her family) out of genteel poverty, or pursue her dreams of becoming a writer and live penniless for the rest of her life. That is until the arrogant, brilliant and extremely handsome Tom Lefroy (James McAvoy) arrives on the scene from London and sweeps her off her feet. But can she bring herself to choose love over both money and writing?

What we thought of it

There’s nothing more intriguing than the idea of finding out the "real story" behind a historical figure. That goes double for writers of fiction and triple for someone as vogue as the great Jane Austen. We want to know what "inspired" all those stories, as though art only ever imitates life. But - while pleasant, appealing and diverting - Becoming Jane is little more than a watered down Austen plot, squeezed into a narrow historical template.

There is some evidence of a love affair between Austen and Lefroy, but don’t be fooled, this is fiction with a thin icing of fact. There’s nothing wrong with fiction of course, but if it hopes to explain the mystery and magic behind great works of art, it needs to be exceptionally well constructed itself.

Just look at a movie like Shakespeare in Love. Co-written by Tom Stoppard, one of the world’s greatest living playwrights, it artfully blends fact and fiction into a delightfully tongue-in-cheek series of discoveries. It doesn’t so much borrow from the Bard’s great works as spin them into cheeky riffs – magnifying their meaning rather than watering it down. But Becoming Jane is quite another matter. The writing is at best earnest and at worst heavy-footed and obvious. Still, it’s a nice enough story, if a little frustrating (we know the ending already after all). If only it didn’t insist on presenting itself as an exposé of Austen’s influences. By doing so it only casts itself as a pale imitation of novels like “Pride and Prejudice” and “Emma” - diminishing those works rather than magnifying them.

That said, it’s hard to complain about spending two hours in the presence of such an adorable cast. Both Hathaway and McAvoy are compulsively watchable, and who could resist a supporting cast with Julie Walters, James Cromwell and Maggie Smith?

You could do far worse than Becoming Jane. It’s an altogether pleasant film, made with great affection and with all the best intentions. But Austen purists should beware: the great lady herself might have looked graciously on such a tribute, however clumsy, but you may not be able to.

- Alistair Fairweather
Anne Hathaway’s new film wants to make a Jane Austen plot out of the author’s own life, but only ends up as a lukewarm imitation of her talents. Luckily the cast and costumes are so charming.

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