Jacqueline Monahan's Movie Reviews
- Category: Jacqueline Monahan
- Published on 17 November 2008
- Written by Jacqueline Monahan
Las Vegas Round The Clock - http://www.lasvegasroundtheclock.com
Jacqueline Monahan is an English tutor for the GEAR UP program at UNLV.
She is also a consultant for Columbia College Chicago in Adjunct Faculty Affairs
Another Jane Austen movie? !, you shriek, slowly backing away from the screen. It’s not what you think (or is it?) because instead of being based on her work, it’s about the author herself. Becoming Jane is the somewhat fictionalized account of the young writer before she ever got one word published. Based on two letters from Jane (Anne Hathaway) to her sister Cassandra, (Anna Maxwell Martin) a romance is cinematically created between rakish Tom Lefroy (James McAvoy) and the unusually observant female wordsmith.
Conforming to the strict and sometimes absurd conventions of her era (Regency England) Jane will later write of them to illustrate their pompous and sometimes nonsensical mandates. Her situation as an unmarried woman is regarded as a predicament. The film would have us believe that the sharp social commentary throughout her works was honed upon this instance in her life, when love seemed possible and attainable.
Jane has a supportive family, but a poor one who can be bought by marrying into wealth no matter what state of affairs the heart occupies. “I married for love,” Mrs. Austen (Julie Walters) cries, “and I have to dig my own potatoes!” Reverend George Austen (James Cromwell) is a poor preacher who is Jane’s biggest advocate at a time when daughters were considered burdens. His encouragement helps her find her literary voice.
Wealthy Lady Gresham (Maggie Smith) has a nephew and sole heir Mr. Wisley (Laurence Fox) who is taken with Jane and proposes marriage. Despite all of the material comforts he can offer, Jane’s interest is not one of them. The dreadfully proper Lady Gresham reminds the humble minister’s daughter of her place, as would any self-appointed, haggard guardian of repressed social behavior. Jane will have none of it.
What she will have is large doses of Tom Lefroy, a semi-scoundrel, not above a dip into houses of ill-repute; a dubious law student, who yawns at Jane’s reading at his first visit to the family home. A sudden chance encounter in the woods changes all that and a new love blossoms instantly.
Tom’s uncle, the dour-faced Judge Lanlois (Ian Richardson) pronounces death sentences as easily as ordering dinner from his servants. He‘s the embodiment of the self-righteous white male supremacists that rule the land. He disapproves of his nephew so what chance does Jane have in his demeaning presence? Judge Lanlois and Lady Gresham represent the male and female scowls of propriety that limited the options for women living in that era. Jane is shown to be somewhat of a convention breaker, tomboy, and free thinker who is able to hold her own with the wealthy and powerful. They do not forgive her for it.
Poor Jane is stuck between the pressure of a good marriage without passion and a scandalous one full of poverty and ruined reputation. Mr. Wisley, Lady Gresham’s heir who asks for her hand, is patient and appreciative of Jane’s spirit. He offers convention, propriety and wealth.
True love Tom Lefroy offers an exciting forbidden sexuality (no, they never do it) right from the pages of the scandalous novel Tom Jones. He turns Jane on - to the book, and otherwise, - and she contemplates running away with him.
Jane Austen purists may have a problem with the liberties director Julian Jarrold (Kinky Boots) and screenwriter Sarah Williams and Kevin Hood take with her life. This much is fact: Tom Lefroy did exist. Jane mentions a mild flirtation with him in two letters to her sister. He read the novel Tom Jones. Jane’s sister Cassandra was engaged to a minister who died of yellow fever in the Caribbean. Jane did turn down a marriage proposal from a wealthy young man. All other actions taken by the star-crossed couple come from the imaginations of the writers and director. To their credit, they do create plausible scenarios.
The cinematography contains lush green landscapes, although interiors can sometimes be dark. Shot in Ireland to stand in for England, (with Dublin recreating London) the costumes, especially empire-waist gowns, drawing rooms, and country manors all ring true, as does life on a farm with its the mud, its hogs, its surrounding forests and the three inches at the bottom of every woman’s gown that stayed perpetually damp from even the shortest walk. You get the picture of the rigors of country life and the pretensions that hid them so well.
The supporting cast is believable, especially Maggie Smith and Ian Richardson as humorless keepers of the status quo. James Cromwell and Julie Walters are benevolent and gentle as Jane’s parents. James McAvoy’s performance as rascally law student Tom makes you understand how curious Jane can become enthralled with him. Anne Hathaway has a face that can convey emotion and longing with just a muscle twitch or lowered eyes.
The film takes us on a slow journey of tiny discoveries and internal conflicts. There are no great highs or lows. Like Tom Lefroy, you may be tempted to sneak in a yawn or two before you discover a quiet attraction has taken over. Even if period pseudo bio-pics are not your cup of tea, you will agree that the serious and contemplative Anne Hathaway makes a very becoming Jane.