For reasons that are now not especially clear, my expectations of this film were so low that I resisted ordering it on Amazon when it was first released. Recently, however, as I was ambling through a department store, I discovered "Becoming Jane" on sale at a price so ridiculously low that I thought I had little to lose by trying it (especially after I discovered that James McAvoy, Lawrence Fox, and Maggie Smith were in the cast).
I am happy to say that I enjoyed it thoroughly; every character was well acted, and the DVD was exquisite to watch in respect to costumes and settings--arguably as good as any of the top BBC productions. Anne Hathaway, whom I saw previously only in "Prada" and consequently considered--unfairly--limited in scope, sparkles with humor in the title role. James McAvoy exudes a delightful plausibility as the handsome Mr LeFroy; Maggie Smith (far more restrained than in her usual delicious comic roles) portrays a believably dignified Lady of the Manor; and Lawrence Fox, allowed to stray from the solemnity of Inspector Lewis' intellectual sergeant, does an amusing turn as Jane's country-bumpkin suitor-with-prospects.
I especially appreciate the covert allusions throughout the film to plot-points in Austen's novels. As for some of the "How-dare-they-deviate-from-Jane-Austen's-actual-life?" criticisms, I can only comment that my fondness for Mozart did not cause me to enjoy "Amadeus" any the less because it did not adhere slavishly to "the facts" of the composer's life; or because it was shot in Prague instead of Vienna. Neither do I complain that "Becoming Jane" was shot in Ireland instead of Hampshire. Whether fanciful or true, "Becoming Jane" provides a most pleasant evening of entertainment. And if the film tempts one to reread Jane Austen's novels or, better, to pick them up and discover them for the first time, it is well worth it.
on 31 January 2008
I love all things Austen but find it difficult to watch this as often as i do other Austen-type movies. The acting is great from Hathaway and MacAvoy, I like the scenery, but there is something lacking. I would have liked it to be more true to Austen's real life and not so 'disney-ish' as one critic pointed out e.g they could have portrayed how her fathers death impacted on her writing. There are some funny moments from MacAvoy. This tries to be another 'Shakespeare in Love' which could have worked better by drawing more on her actual life than it did.
on 3 June 2007
I have read some of the reviews below which slate the film for its mild stretching of the truth which probably are quite true. Not enough is known about Jane's life to really create a film that is completely true to life. However this in no way reflects on the enjoyability and passion of the movie. The comments that the film 'had no heart' are completely unfounded. I was incredibly moved by the romantic storyline and greatly appreciated the humour and subtle novel references. True, I am a die-hard Austen fan, but I have friends and family who are not who also enjoyed the film immensely.
I would recommend the film to anyone who enjoys a romance of any kind whether period drama or not. In my opinion an absolute triumph.
This is a very odd film as it can't quite make up its mind whether it's a biography on the real Jane Austen or whether it's a compilation of her books, and the merging of the two as if everything she ever wrote was rooted in her own experience instead of in her imagination make it both plodding and quite dubious.
As other reveiwers have said, too much of the plot, characters and scenes are lifted from the two most popular of her books due to film/TV versions (Pride & Prejudice, Sense & Sensibility) which makes this both derivative and uninspiringly predictable.
There is absolutely no sense of period which the BBC usually does so well: so here Jane wanders around a ball and into the garden alone; she, her brother and his lover all go and stay with her potential husband's uncle/patron; and after calling off her elopement (JA eloping!) she travels back home all by herself. Also all the discussion about women 'supporting themselves with their pen' is just ludicrous in this time period: even women who wrote made hardly any money out of it (and I don't think JA did, or certainly not much). And as for that absolutely ludicrous cricket scene - even Jennifer Ehle's brilliant and accurate Elizabeth Bennett would never have considered that!
I didn't think Anne Hathaway is as wooden as some other reviewers here but she's just far too sweet and wholesome not to mention pretty to be a good Jane who is supposed to have been far spikier even at a young age.
So an ok film to pass a couple of hours but forget that this is supposed to be jane Austen and you'll probably enjoy it far more.
on 16 November 2007
Given that Anne Hathaway is most famous for her role in The Devil Wears Prada and that director Julian Jarrold is best known for Kinky Boots, I didn't have particularly high expectations of this homage to Jane Austen as I trepidly stepped into the cinema. In the last decade or so, there has been a huge boom in productions of Austen's novels geared towards the mass market (e.g. 2007's Mansfield Park starring Billie Piper and 2005's Pride and Prejudice, starring Keira Knightley). Adaptations of Austen's novels have become increasingly lightweight and simplified since their heyday in 1995, when the hugely popular BBC productions of Persuasion and Pride and Prejudice both first aired. The winsome and fluffy Becoming Jane further builds on this trend, purporting to show us what inspired Austen to write her classic novels.
Our protagonists - the dowryless Jane and the dashing Tom Lefroy - meet in the sitting room at a family gathering when Jane is reading a sample of her writing. Already at this early stage, when the director has the opportunity of showing what a truly original and amazing writer Austen was, the first problem emerges as he throws the scene entirely to Lefroy's evident boredom and provocative somnolence. Jane is seen fretting upstairs, throwing her story into the fire in distress, clearly unsettled by Tom not being impressed by her. It cannot have been the intention of the filmmakers to trivialise Austen's art in this clumsy scene and it doesn't make for a good start.
Austen's flirtation with Lefroy when she was 20 (she wrote to her sister Cassandra amusingly, "Imagine to yourself everything most profligate and shocking in the way of dancing and sitting down together") is amplified here to a towering, star-crossed love. The sexual frisson is spelt out: Tom, who greatly admired Henry Fielding's Tom Jones, tantalisingly quotes to Jane on female ecstasy and she is hooked. Independent she might be - she is seen rejecting the dry Mr Whisly's proposal against her mother's wishes and peskily waking up her parents with early-morning piano-playing - but when confronted with an arrogant amateur boxer she seems to rather friskily melt at a touch! It certainly requires a great deal of suspended disbelief to play along with this very sentimental portrait of Austen (Jane was much loved by her family for example; it is highly unlikely that she would have even considered an elopement). It doesn't help, I think, that Hathaway is good deal prettier than Austen is thought to have been ("She was not generally considered handsome," writes one of her biographers, Claire Tomalin). In fact, Hathaway strikingly resembles Disney's Snow White here. She is, for me, ultimately miscast, failing to convey the true depth of feeling and powers of observation that would make for a just homage to this much-celebrated writer.
On the plus side, James McAvoy plays Tom with great suaveness and confidence (his performance in Atonement is also worthy of praise) and Anna Maxwell Martin gives a warm, humane performance as Cassandra: both bolster the film. James Cromwell and Julie Walters play Austen's parents well, although their characters are rather too obviously based on the Bennet parents in Pride and Prejudice. Indeed screenwriters Kevin Hood and Sarah Williams have plundered much from Austen's novels to flesh out the characters. They have studied past Austen productions closely, too, but this attention does backfire somewhat, making the film seem tired and a little lifeless. It is difficult to shake off the feeling that we've seen this all before.
Tom is clearly intended as a Darcy prototype and Jane's spirited declarations are strongly reminiscent of Elizabeth Bennet. The effect of this is, sadly, that Austen becomes subordinated to her most-loved creations. Her writing is seen as springing from her experiences of love - one of the oldest patriarchal clichés - and from her environment, rather than from her own thoughts and imagination. In the light of this and other rather wishy-washy productions, it would seem that there is still some sort of cultural need to see women as emotionally needy, innocent little creatures, who fall irresistibly in love with rogue-like men. If these women do create, it is seen as incidental rather than actual talent. Doesn't Jane Austen, who could spot phoniness at the drop of a hat, deserve something better than this?
on 26 April 2008
While I am prepared to put aside the way this film "stretches" the truth about Austen's life (and looks), I cannot forgive the script. At times, it was quite dreadful - summed up by the moment when Laurence Fox casually slips "it is a truth universally acknowledged" into a conversation and Anne Hathaway's face lights up in a very hammy fashion. Absolutely risible.
The direction is equally unsubtle. Possibly the worst moment is the hugely unconvincing ball scene where Hathaway and McAvoy overact the sexual chemistry wildly and, therefore, unconvincingly.
Hathaway is OK, McAvoy does have some good moments and the generally fine cast raise this to a two-star film (the script deserves one or less). Most of them are wasted, though, with the honourable exception of Anna Maxwell Martin. I thought she was excellent as Cassandra, and the scenes in which she learns of her fiance's death are the best in the film.
on 14 June 2010
I'm a big fan of period dramas, both as television shows and films, and am also an enormous fan of Jane Austen's novels, so I had high expectations for "Becoming Jane". It follows the story of Jane Austen as she tries to embark on her writing career, whilst her mother encourages her to marry into money as her family have very little themselves. Whilst being pushed to marry the wealthy but dull and awkward Mr Wisley, she falls for the entirely unsuitable Tom Lefroy, a decision that will affect the rest of her life and her writing.
Now, this BBC film has a stellar cast of great English actors, including Julie Walters and James McAvoy, but for some ill-conceived reason they decided to cast Anne Hathaway (a beautiful American actress) as the English writer (who was generally considered to be rather plain in looks). Now I have no problem with Americans being cast in English roles and vice-versa, but there needs to be a good reason for doing this, and as far as I can tell the only reason Hathaway was cast (with her sometimes shaky accent) was so that it could be released in the cinema and draw in the crowds (similar to what happened with The Other Boleyn Girl).
As for the film itself, although there were some light comic moments, the film was poorly paced and seemed extremely plodding in places, and yet somehow they managed to make the relationship between Jane and her romantic interest (Tom Lefroy played by James McAvoy) appear rushed and unconvincing (although individually Hathaway and McAvoy play their parts well). On the plus side, Anna Maxwell Martin is brilliant as Jane's sister Cassandra in some incredibly emotionally charged scenes (Hathaway is at her best when with Maxwell Martin), and Maggie Smith is always a joy to watch.
I would say that this is a reasonably enjoyable film, but is far more of a "made-for-TV" special than a Hollywood release. It should also be considered a mostly fictional story, as very little reflects what is known of Jane's real life. Ideally I would give it 2.5 stars!.
on 27 September 2007
If the producers had only changed the name of the main character and just been honest in admitting that this is basically a fictional period drama, then this would be a fine film, as it is in parts very funny and has a good leading lady with excellent supporting cast. But the viewer cannot ignore that fact that the heroine is supposed to be the celebrated writer Jane Austen.
The main thread of the film, her "romance" with Tom Lefroy, is based on a gross exaggeration of what really happened and it should therefore be watched with caution. While there are parts which have remained true to the accepted facts about Jane's life, there are also times when it delves into the ludicrous - for example, the idea that she would ever have considered eloping with anyone is simply laughable!
Hathaway's Jane is feisty, strong and ahead of her time. She also manages a very good english accent (there is a bit of a "twang" in the odd few parts). But her performance is at times lacking in depth and she fails to capture the attitude and air of a Regency woman in her manners, posture and walking.
As a true Austen fan, my main concern is that this will be watched by younger generations to come and become an accepted version of the "truth" of Jane Austen's life and character and the real facts will get forgotten or swept aside. That would be not only alarming but a great injustice to her.
On the whole, great to watch for light entertainment but not to be taken too seriously or given credence by anyone attempting to gain a true understanding of who the real Jane Austen was. If you're looking for the true facts, read one of the excellent biographies available.
on 28 May 2012
I wasn't really impressed with this effort of "reinventing" a background love story for famous Jane Austen: in this sense surely better going straight to her novels' plot.
I mean, I see where was the appeal in this kind of fake biopic but in the end, even if formally is (as expected) perfect, underneath I really couldn't buy the essence of the protagonists (the sexy Irishman Tom with "the right swagger" so to speak made me giggle a bit since so superficially cliched).
Anne plays Jane as a feminist (quite out of period I believe), James the badass with the heart of gold etc...it sounded simply fake, especially slow & boring overall (also because as all know before, she never got married, therefore there is not even that kind of suspense).
It's like they've portayed them with such a modern mentality, that I couldn't truly believe that it was supposed to be settled in another era (like ok that there were boxing matches back in the day, but hey! do somebody really believe that Miss Austen could have been there? come on! or when the 2 discuss about "how possible to marry without love?", even if supposedly they should have known better, living during that period, right?!). Or for better saying it, they could have used at that point that "modern thinking" to push a bit more forward these roles to a surprising alternative route then.
Last but not least, why even choosing an American actress to portay a Brit icon (with UK cast)? who knows, probably to have more visibility with a star in it.
PS_in the scene when they 1st meet, during her home reading, I was literally falling asleep like the male protagonist LOL!
In the end probably it wasn't the case to do a fictional biopic at all on the 1st place: some other great character could have fitted better I guess. Avoid unless you're an hardcore (period drama &) Austen's fan at heart...plus I didn't like the final with Lefroy either (which I won't spoil here ;-P).
on 6 March 2010
Not being an aficionado of Jane Austen at all I watched this film with unbiased and impartial eyes. I know more about the Bronte family who a generation later came to prominence as authors. Like Anne Bronte too I learnt that Jane was the youngest daughter of a church minister. I appreciate that to people who know more about the life story of Jane Austen this film was no doubt quite inaccurate,but to someone who knew very little about her it was a very enjoyable film,especially the last hour or so when romance between Jane and Tom developed. I appreciate too that Jane,as portrayed excellently by Anne Hathaway with a very convincing middle class English accent, bore no resemblance to the 'Plain Jane' that I believe Jane Austen was. Good acting too from the likes of the late Ian Richardson,Maggie Smith and Julie Walters as relatives of the two main characters, also Anna Maxwell Martin as her tragic sister Cassandra whose fiance was killed tragically abroad. My one criticism on that score is that James McAvoy as Tom didn't have any Irish accent at all,though as he was upper class no doubt would explain that. I would say this film's storyline was partially based on Jane's novels of love,sought, found and lost. Scenery was excellent,beautiful house and lake (I enjoyed seeing Jane throw a pebble etc into the lake in one scene) and costumes and dialogue were fine to me though I know some of the dialogue was considered too modern(Jane calling her mother (Julie Walters) 'Mum' for example.) Living not that far from Bath I was of course disappointed it was not featured as her later life was not shown in this film,likewise Blaise Castle in Bristol which was named in her novel ' Northanger Abbby' as was Lawrence Weston,which is near where I live.However,this biopic is a good insight into the life of 20-year-old Jane and well worth watching and buying as it gives you some idea of her early life and failed romances. Good acting all round and just the right length to keep viewers interested. I recommend this film to fans of Austen (if they can watch it was an uncritical eye)and also people like me who knew very little about her. It reveals to us Jane before she became the literary success in the following century,though sadly she died too young to be fully aware of her success I believe. I give this 4 stars as I deducted one as I feel it portrayed her slightly inaccurately and lacked the seriousness of other adaptations.