MOVIE REVIEW- Jane in love?: Austen films becoming ubiqitous
"In Hartford, Hereford and Hampshire, hurricanes hardly ever happen." One happened in Hampshire in 1775. That's when Jane Austen was born there, and the wind hasn't died down yet. While it may only seem like there have been more screen adaptations of her six novels than Shakespeare's 37 plays in recent years, she has been well represented.
Now an incident in the author's life– a flirtation when she was 20– is the subject of Becoming Jane, which is less a biographical film than a pastiche of characters and incidents in her books and the movies that have been made from them. While elements will seem only vaguely familiar to ordinary people, real Austen addicts will be able to quote chapter and verse in every scene, which will make them enjoy it that much more.
Anne Hathaway, playing English well enough to fool Americans, stars as Jane, daughter of "an obscure and impecunious clergyman" (James Cromwell) and his wife (Julie Walters). While her father would like her to marry for love if possible, her mother is more practical: "Affection is desirable. Money is absolutely indispensable!" Jane, like her future heroines, is on her father's side.
The best roles in the Austen films go to marvelous character actors who play wealthy people controlling the purse strings for their marriageable children or wards. There are two in Becoming Jane. Lady Gresham (Maggie Smith) has a nephew, Wisley (Laurence Fox), who's a "booby" but smitten with Jane. Judge Langlois (the late Ian Richardson) gives an allowance to his nephew, Thomas Lefroy (James McAvoy), a young lawyer who lives such a wild life in the city his uncle sends him to Hampshire to cool down.
Tom and Jane have instant chemistry– or is it physics where like forces repel? It takes them about half the movie to admit they're in love and the other half to figure out what to do about it, since his uncle isn't likely to consider Jane a catch, and without his approval, they won't have any money. Lady Gresham is more easily manipulated, but Jane doesn't want to marry Wisley ("His small fortune will not buy me"), despite even her father warning her she won't get a better offer. Will she choose between passion and practicality, rather than pride and prejudice?
Jane's siblings provide subplots. Brother Henry (Joe Anderson) is desired by an older woman, a visiting countess (Lucy Cohu) who is also a cousin. Older sister Cassandra (Anna Maxwell Martin) is happily engaged but can't be married until her intended returns from the West Indies.
The English (co-producing with the Irish in this case) make this kind of movie look easy, as if everyone were still walking the streets of London in 18th-century garb. Director Julian Jarrold (Kinky Boots) has obviously watched all the other recent Austeniana for inspiration and absorbed his influences well. Especially noteworthy is the cinematography of Eigil Bryld, whose camera is frequently on the move but always in the right place to catch what we're supposed to see.
The screenplay by Kevin Hood and Sarah Williams has just about everyone spouting epigrams like Oscar Wilde (Tom: "Justice plays no part in the law"), but the best line goes to Lady Gresham, if only because of the perfection of Maggie Smith's delivery. When she inquires what Jane is doing and is told she's writing, Lady Gresham asks, "Can anything be done about it?"
Becoming Jane gives the impression of Ms. Austen that she has of another female writer of the day: "Her internal landscape is, I suspect, quite picturesque." It's closer in achievement to Shakespeare in Love (although that was overrated) than the recent Miss Potter, which tried to reduce Beatrix Potter's life to a Jane Austen novel.
If you're not Austened out, Austen up for Becoming Jane.