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on 3 June 2009
This DVD about the creative life of Jane Austen is sensitive, whimsical and well researched. Using material from some of her letters to her sister and occasional quotes from her novels ( Jane Austen officionados will spot them), the makers have opened a window onto her character, wit and inspiration. This version of Jane Austen's life is much more authentic than other, "Hollywood" interpretations and brings together strong acting from some of our most respected English actors. Olivia Williams (Jane Fairfax, "Emma")brings energy and intelligence to her Jane Austen, the wonderful Hugh Bonneville sensitively portraying her "regret" and adding richness to the cast: Phyllida Law, Greta Scacchi and Imogen Poots. The film is beautifully shot with haunting accompanying music.
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JANE AUSTEN REGRETS is the latest period drama offering from the BBC. As a fan of period drama, and some of Austen's novels, I thought this would be an interesting insight into the lady behind the words.

JANE AUSTEN REGRETS shows us Jane during a relatively small period in her life, as she is approaching 40 and is still unmarried. Jane's niece, Fanny Kinght, who is young, beautiful and eager to fall in love, cannot beleieve that Jane would be able to write novels such as "Pride and Predjudice" without having experienced love herself. And so Fanny seeks Jane's opinion in matters of the heart - perticularly whether she should accept a proposal from a certain Mr. Plumbtree if he ever makes the offer.
Yet, for some reason, Fanny's love affair and her deliberations seem to shake Jane. Usually safe behind her clever words and strong views about love and marriage, Jane seems to be hiding something - not only to her young niece but also to herself.
So, JANE AUSTEN REGRETS becomes a mini exploration of Austen's heart. The proposal she turned down; the man who she seems to love but has wasted the chance; and the cracks in her armour which suggest that she longs for a more intimate relationship with a man.

Olivia Williams does a fantastic job at playing Jane, bringing us a portrayal of her which makes her very life-like. Instead of playing her as a two dimensional character, Williams really brings her to life, showing that there were aspects to her personality which are not so likebale. But you also see why this is so. In this adaptation, Austen comes across as someone who is able to hide behind her clever words and her strong opinions on love and marriage, but who deep down wants to have the same kind of love that she is so able to create in her pieces of fiction.
The other actors/actresses also were fantastic. Jane's mum does a brilliant job towards the end of the series as she vents her own frustration towards her unmarried daugther, illustrating the pressures that would have been on her when she made her decision.

I found this adaptation to be very well acted and heart-felt. Although I have not seen the adaptation of Austen's earlier life, "Bedoming Jane", having seen this it has now made me more eager to do so.
I loved it - just like Austen's best works, there are moments of pure beauty as the subject of love and matters of the heart are discussed, showing just how rewarding or painful it can be.
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on 2 May 2008
Any kind of dramatisation of Jane Austen's life is going to be a tough nut to crack. Enigmatic with almost no first hand descriptions of her or her personality and not even an official portrait so that no one knows for sure what she actually looked like (you think you do know, but the image you have of Austen in your mind is almost certainly the product of a victorian artist's imagination) Austen's uneventful life is not exactly the stuff that dramas are usually made of.

This production makes an admirable stab at the attempt however. Olivia Williams is well cast (just the right age, and good enough an actress to carry the role) of the later Jane in the last year and a half of her life (Williams may be be better known to Jane afficionados as playing the part of Jane Fairfax in ITV's dramatisation of "Emma" 10 years or so ago). She makes surely the performance of her life here. Simply wonderful.

I was impressed the script writer's obvious knowledge of the subject and the extensive use of quotes from Jane's letters, and even Cassandra's "She was the sun of my life, the gilder of every pleasure, the soother of every sorrow" quote from the letter written to Fanny immediately after Jane's death.

If you've read Austen's letters and the few eye witness accounts of her you'll be impressed with the faithfullness of the depiction of Jane. Olivia's Jane was witty with a well developed sense of humour, with also a cleverness that reminded me of the letters, and a "keen sense of humour... (that) oozed out of her, very much in Mr Bennet's style", as someone who knew her later recalled. On the whole I'd say it was about 80% accurate to what I'd imagined her to be like. Perhaps not quite clever enough, and not quite witty enough, to be entirely the Jane of the letters, but a pretty good representation nonetheless.

Jane mercilessly mocks the Prince Regent's chaplain the Revd James Stanier Clarke and dazzles everyone with her brilliance, and looses more than a few caustic barbs. Almost all of which is quoted almost verbatim from her letters and other writings. And this is were the film succeeds best of all: it does convey something of her brilliance and wit, as well her intimidating intellect.

In the film she hides behind a mask of her own indifference to affairs of the heart, but there are enough chinks in her armour especially with her interest in Mr Haden to suggest that she was as vunerable to a charming handsome rogue as any of her heroines and had he made a move... well, lets just say I don't think she would have remained unmoved. Which all makes for some wonderful fiction, but fiction and speculation it remains.

The most powerful, and fictional, scene in the film is where her mother confront her over her failure to accept Harris Bigg's offer of marriage which dramatises possibly the biggest conundrum in Austen's life: why did she accept an offer of marriage from Harris Wither? Sure, she rejected him because she didn't love him, that we can understand, but why did she accept him in the first place? In this dramatisation the reason is given that Cassandra couldn't bear to be parted from her sister and so persuaded her to change her mind. Now, I don't believe that that to be true in this instance, but it does dramatise an argument for Jane's never marrying: could she ever have bared to be parted from the single most important person in her entire life? (Her dalliance of 20 years earlier with Tom Lefroy is briefly mentioned, but the stating here that he meant nothing to her that he was "not the one", is something I also fundamentally disagree with. It also dramatises her somewhat distant relationship with her mother: distant emotionally, even if physically and probably uncomfortably, close.

After some unrealistic dramatisations of Austen's life recently recently I really wasn't expecting too much from this at all, but I was pleasantly surprised. From initially expecting something very dull and ordinary instead I found something very fine, powerful, moving and ultimately very sad. Just as any depiction of Jane's later life should be.
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on 20 March 2011
This BBC TV drama of the last years of Jane Austen is a must watch for any Austen fan, indeed for anyone who values the reflected life. So little is known of her life because her sister Cassandra destroyed most of her letters but this drama has captured of what we know of the Jane Austen spirit, a women who in her short life achieved a not inconsiderable financial success, the patronage of the Prince Regent, and an impact on English literature which after nearly two centuries continues to inspire and fascinate. The stunning and sensitive performances of Olivia Williams and Hugh Bonneville will make it a classic in it own right alone. We can only regret ourselves that if Jane Austen had lived longer how much more joy she would have brought to the lovers of English literature. Ray Towey
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on 22 February 2011
I loved this movie ever so much more than "Becoming Jane". This film was contrived from Jane's letters and though it may not be exactly how things happened, it does a wondrous job in letting us know how Jane's last few years might have been spent. I have watched this film once a month since it was first aired. Never have I loved a BBC film more.
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on 5 May 2013
I was surprised to find how much I liked this depiction of Jane Austen, one of the most written-about writers in literature. Many biographers have made inspired attempts to know her, but although we have her novels and some of her letters to give us clues, she somehow remains enigmatic.

However, the characterisation by Olivia Williams in Miss Austen Regrets seems to ring truer than, for example, the romantic glossy Austen we were offered in the film Becoming Jane. This Jane Austen is shown towards the end of her life when all likelihood of marriage has passed, but when her books are at last being published. The excellent screenplay fastens on her writing, her involvement with her family, especially her niece Fanny, to whom she gives advice regarding love and marriage, and, occasionally, her regrets.

Hugh Bonneville puts in a beautifully understated performance as the man Jane might have married, and they have a touching scene towards the end of the film when it's becoming clear that Jane is probably dying. Greta Schacchi, playing Cassandra, gives it all she's got as the much-loved, supportive, single sister, while Phyllida Law as their mother is suitably angry at Jane's life choices, particularly in her refusal, over a decade before, to accept the hand of a rich man who could have changed all their fortunes.

But it is the performance of Olivia Williams as Jane who makes this film into something special. She is offered the chance to show Jane as the clever, witty, loving, but realistic woman of the letters, who can be sharp, bitter and unexpectedly extrovert. And she takes that chance, making the character rounded, believable and completely sympathetic. This is a film that can be watched more than once, for the nuances of Williams' interpretation alone, especially for the moments when she is utterly absorbed in her writing, which is, after all, why we remember Jane Austen nearly two hundred years after her death.
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on 15 September 2010
Having written a few reviews on the film-genre that interests me, it came as a particular challenge to offer a brief opinion on a movie, which portrayed the genial talents of a writer I have esteemed for many years. Jane Austen, accepted as an icon in literature, her books continue to capture my imagination each time I open them. Essentially, this film impresses upon me, how Jane Austen ignored tradition, choosing freedom of thought, rather than adhere to traditional, family obligations placed on young women during those times.
Olivia William's, relaxed, witty portrayal of the writer's character, confirms in me how I would have imagined Jane Austen. It is easy to see how the love stories Jane Austen created, made her approachable to her adoring niece, Fanny, exquisitely played by Imogen Poots. The development of this particular relationship I found touching, as Fanny persistently seeks her aunt's counsel in her search for success in marriage. As the film progresses, shadows from Jane's past appear. In one moving scene, the Reverend Brook Bridges, sensitively played by Hugh Bonneville, wonders over what Jane's reply might have been, had he possessed the courage, then, to ask for her hand again. Her response is unrelenting, telling him she had no inclination towards marriage, but one senses from the mood of the scene; she may be harbouring regrets.
The film contains copious, moving scenes, where Jane Austen (Olivia Williams) skilfully displays thoughtful expressions; appearing to deliberate on past decisions, and of what might have been. For any modern-day writer to undertake a biographical epic of an iconic personage, it can, undoubtedly, expose them to the risk of potential criticism from that celebrity's patrons. Personally, from the evidence existing of Jane Austen's life, I feel Gwyneth Hughes has captured the family atmosphere, describing the environment that existed around Austen when she produced her magnificent works.
To conclude, I think it is generally conceded that the music score of a film should complement the mood of the dialogues occurring within it. I was not to be disappointed here, with Jennie Muskett's music score, easily blending a sense of spiritual fantasy with reality that was in-keeping with the times.
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on 26 April 2009
Far better than the beautiful looking but wildly inaccurate "Becoming Jane", this has been written by someone who's actually read more than a 5 minute guide to the life of Jane Austen. I'm still waiting for the research which looks at her supposed relationship at the very start of the 19th century - the period in Jane's life that Cassandra really did burn all evidence of.
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on 12 December 2015
Jane Austen was born out of place and time, a modern woman who lived before modernity existed. Rich creatively, she was poor materially and emotionally, if by ‘emotional’ we mean romantic love reciprocated. Yet she was intoxicated by love at least once, its cause Thomas Lefroy, a lively young gentleman of nearly 20 who had come down to Hampshire from London for the Christmas social season. Jane was also 20 that winter — the fateful winter of 1795.

Together the lovers dance. In the meditative trance the world dissolves and disappears around them. What remains is the face and body of the lover, a face in full view, a body held close.

They were like that. They drank, flirted, danced. And in the private moments, stolen as they were, can we doubt how they were to each other and what they did? Kisses, embraces, oaths of devotion — the least of it. More we will never know. Jane’s letters barely survive to hint at intimacies, though a few from that magical winter do. We know she loved him and was loved in return.

But it wasn’t to last. Both the winter and their young love passed.

Jane lived in genteel poverty. So did Thomas. He had to raise himself in society through a propitious marriage (and did).

When Thomas was leaving Hampshire to return to London Jane wrote to her sister Cassandra who was in Berkshire that winter:

“The day is come on which I am to flirt my last with Tom Lefroy, and when you receive this it will be over — my tears flow as I write at the melancholy idea.”

Claire Tomalin in her fine book Jane Austen: A Life (1997) adds:

“It’s a joke, yes [Jane’s letter], but made with the intention of misleading her sister; the joke is undermined when you look back at the letter of the week before, with its unequivocal message that she was in love.”

“Tom Lefroy was also in love with her, even if he was not yet risking proposals of marriage. He confessed as much to a nephew when he was an old man: ‘he said in so many words that he was in love with her, although he qualifies his confession by saying it was boyish love’. Boyish love is after all the most passionate love there is, and the qualification, far from diminishing the remembered flame, makes it blaze up brighter.”

This forms the backstory to the beginning of the film, which opens in 1802 at Manydown House, a large country estate near Steventon (Jane’s village), owned by the Bigg-Withers family. Harris Bigg-Withers, the estate’s heir apparent, was 22, five years younger than Jane. On the second night of December he proposed marriage to Jane. She consented. She had known Harris and the Bigg-Withers family for many years. In fact, weird twist of fate, it was in this very house — Manydown — that Jane had danced with Tom those seven long years ago.

Jane’s sleep that night, if she slept at all, was fitful. She and Cassandra might have talked throughout the night. Next morning Jane broke the engagement, packed her bags, took the carriage home. She knew what she was doing and what it meant. She was 27 and unlikely, with no property to her name, to receive further proposals. She knew too what it would mean for her family. The Bigg-Withers family were rich. As mistress of Manydown she could have provided for herself, Cassandra, her mother and servants. “And to think I could have been mistress of all this,” Lizzie Bennet says upon seeing Pemberley for the first time. What were Jane’s thoughts during that carriage ride home? If she thought of Lizzie, it wouldn’t be the first time life has imitated art.

She didn’t love him, so she couldn’t do it. Better to remain poor, independent and single than be trapped in a loveless marriage. It’s the best explanation we have. Jane was complex and would not compromise. Instead of a husband, she had imagination. Instead of children, she had characters. Had she married, who can say? Very possibly no Mansfield Park, Emma, Persuasion — her maturest works.

Even so, she regrets. She looks back and wonders, considers the impossible complexity of what-ifs. She can’t return but does so in memory, time and again. The cause is Fanny Knight, the young daughter of her brother Edward Austen-Knight. Fanny is nearly 20, the very age Jane was when she met Tom Lefroy. Aunt Jane thus becomes Fanny’s agony aunt. Fanny is in love with love and eager to marry. But to whom? Many young men abound, it seems, but who is right and appropriate? Furthermore, what exactly is right and appropriate? How can we know? Does Aunt Jane even know? Why should Fanny rely on the advice of someone who seems to have failed so miserably in love? In the real world beyond novels what has Jane to offer anyone? Fanny’s hunger and quest for love sets off this train of doubt in Jane’s mind.

Time and again Jane confesses to Cassandra and others that she’s happy with her choices. Trouble is, she doesn’t look it, seldom smiling and laughing. What one mainly sees is frustration, melancholy, irony, she the great unloved writer of love. And it looks like this contradiction is tearing her apart. One scene in London shows it clearly.

Jane has gone to London to meet her banker brother Henry. He acts as her literary agent as well. She has just finished writing Emma, so the year is 1815. Of course she wants the best deal possible for it, despite the gap of four years since her last novel (Mansfield Park) appeared. During her London stay Henry is taken ill with terrible stomach pains. Jane fetches a doctor for him on her own. The young handsome doctor, Mr. Haden, turns out to be a great fan and admirer of Jane’s books. He is clever, insightful, sensitive. He doesn’t flatter her. He has actually read the books and understands them, as few men seem to. He knows Jane psychologically, or at least what her characters mean to her. The two of them talk, drink, socialise during Henry’s convalescence, the doctor checking on him frequently, or even more frequently than might be expected. We see what is happening. Jane is overcome with surprise at her own emotion. As for Dr. Haden, the look in his eyes seems genuine. But…Fanny is there too. Jane is nearly 40, Fanny not yet 20. Fanny is at the pianoforte, struggling with a tune. Dr. Haden attends to her, helping to place her fingers on the keys. Jane notices. She watches intensely. Red rises in her face, the scarlet mark of jealousy. She knows: Dr. Haden loves Jane Austen, author, not Jane Austen, woman. This scene is meant to be heartbreaking and is.

Cassandra abides by Jane throughout. She is devout and loving, proud of her little sister and all that she has accomplished. Most were too close to Jane to appreciate her genius and uniqueness. But Cassandra does, her gift one of both closeness and understanding. Which is why she always protected Jane; first in life, later in death, guarding her reputation. It was she who burned nearly all of Jane’s letters on Jane’s instructions, ensuring that our knowledge of Jane’s inner life would remain obscure and patchy.

But all is not solemn and melancholy in this fine film. Jane’s wit, never suppressed, shines through time and again. Humour was her armour; it let her laugh at the world instead of crying because of it. Wit sustains her, setting her apart from others, even those who try to compete with it, as a pompous MP does at one dinner party, flattering her with the sort of empty homilies she’s heard time and again from the semi-literate, meaning those who have passingly and superficially read her novels.

Jane made 21st century choices in the 19th. She did so because she had to; it’s how she was made and thought. The world has caught up with her now. She and her books are more popular than ever, having outlived most of her contemporaries. She’s on the ten-pound note in Britain (or will be soon enough in 2017), and I can’t remember anymore where Shakespeare is (possibly on the backside of the twenty).

This thoughtful film provides sublime insight into the troubled heart of Jane Austen, a woman of flesh and blood, not Regency tea parties and parlour chit-chat.

Thank you, Jane.
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VINE VOICEon 28 April 2008
I did not intend to watch this, luckily channel-hopping can have its uses and when I saw that Olivia Williams was the lead I knew I would not be subjected to such abysmal fictions as Jane doing a Lydia Bennett with Tom Lefroy. We are treated instead to the not entirely sympathetic lively Jane of the letters - caustic wit, flirting, dancing - with for the most part plausible inventions (if your idea of Jane is of a latter-day Londonite).

There are of course a few of the expected tortuous dramatisations of uncharacteristic and utter speculation and perhaps you could turn spotting the usual quotes into a game to ease the almost physical pain of hearing 'Two inches of ivory' indiscriminately applied again. A modern Jane but not too obtrusively so and without resorting to tweeness, a lovely film overall.
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