Becoming Jane (2007) / Drama-Romance
MPAA Rated: PG for some violence, brief nudity and mild language
Running Time: 120 min.
Cast: Anne Hathaway, James McAvoy, James Cromwell, Julie Walters, Joe Anderson, Maggie Smith, Lucy Cohu, Laurence Fox, Ian Richardson, Anna Maxwell Martin
Cameo: Tom Hollander
Director: Julian Jarrold
Screenplay: Kevin Hood, Sarah Williams (Based on letters written by Jane Austen)
Review published March 2, 2008
Becoming Jane seeks to explore the earlier years of beloved writer Jane Austen (Hathaway, The Devil Wears Prada), specifically in her presumed relationship with Tom Lefroy (McAvoy, The Last King of Scotland). It chronicles her struggles to find a husband of wealth and stature suitable enough, and though some offer their hand in marriage, her desire is to find a man that inspires her emotionally, rather than suffer through a marriage without love for the sake of societal expectations.
The only man that seems to be able to break through her defenses is the impish up-and-coming Irish lawyer, Tom, and though the two set out on the wrong foot, eventually his wily nature grows on her, to the point where no other suitor seems suitable. However, Tom, a man of modest birth, is still bound by the whims of his benefactor uncle, Judge Langlois (Richardson, Year of the Comet), who comes under the perception that he could do much better than this uppity woman of such low standing.
Austen readers will enjoy Becoming Jane much more than those with only a passing knowledge, as it is evident throughout that screenwriters Kevin Hood and Sarah Williams, working with the actual letters and other biographical material regarding the writer's short life, posit that Austen's experience with Lefroy would be the inspiration for her masterwork, "Pride and Prejudice". Although the choice of actors is agreeable, especially given their status in the world of films aimed toward female audiences, their combined charisma proves to be the only aspects worthy of note in this otherwise lifeless romance barely passable as a Lifetime original film.
With period pieces, there is a tendency for lovers of these sorts of films to still be entertained by the cinematography, the costumes, the art and the dialogue of a bygone era. Unfortunately, Becoming Jane isn't a particularly attractive film when compared to others of its ilk, with its drab setting, unappealing environs, and a lack of a budget (made for under $20 million) that keeps all of the production values modest. Having the characters constantly take walks in the woods, and rather cheerless woods at that, doesn't exactly make for interesting viewing for people looking for set design and costume fashions. With such limitations, it's going to take good characterizations and a compelling story to draw us in. Alas, when contrasted to Austen's own works, the story of Austen itself has no real cinematic appeal except for the historical context, and even then, historians have largely dismissed its adherence to fact.
Becoming Jane, despite its basis on an actual person and real situations, should be seen as a fanciful semi-fiction, with much dramatic license taken in order to cater to the crowd that knows Austen's stories well. As such, I would gather that only those familiar with her works, especially of "Pride and Prejudice", need apply, as taking this film as a straightforward story is dreadfully boring without the Austen tie in. Your level of fascination with the project is directly proportional to your level of interest with all things Austen, so to that end, in my mind, the film is a failure. Change the name of of the characters and you'd hardly have a movie worth making at all. Becoming Sleepy should be the alternate title for non-Austen fans.
©2008 Vince Leo