Becoming Jane (2007)
|Genre(s): Biographical / Drama|
|Miramax || PG - 120 minutes - $29.99 || February 12, 2008|
|Reviewer: Brian Oliver || Posted On: 2008-02-08|
Writer(s): Sarah Williams and Kevin Hood (written by)
Cast: Anne Hathaway, James McAvoy, Julie Walters, James Cromwell, Maggie Smith
Theatrical Release Date: August 10, 2007
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Jane Austen is a literary legend. She broke new ground crossing gender lines and producing some of the most popular novels... in the history of novels.
Becoming Jane explores Jane Austen’s beginnings. Anne Hathaway plays Ms. Austen, a rebel for a female in the late 18th century. She has a couple brothers and sisters, is a great cricket player and escapes from it all through her writing. It is during this period that young women, like Jane, would marry a rich man and her family would get compensated. This does not please Jane as she wants to marry for love, not money. But her father (Cromwell), a preacher, is in financial trouble and her mother (Walters) doesn’t approve of Jane’s rebellious ways.
One day, Jane meets the pompous Tom Lefroy (McAvoy), a young man she initially detests but soon falls for, and he to her. The problem is, he has no money to speak of, except through his guardian uncle who controls the money. Could this young love-struck couple find happily ever after?
Becoming Jane is, on the surface, a fine movie. The costume and set designs are top notch – I’d say even Oscar worthy –, performances by just about the entire cast – including Anne Hathaway, James McAvoy (my favorite rising actor), James Cromwell (who is, I guess, a must for British period films) and Julie Walters – is also excellent. The only odd (wo)man out is the venerable Maggie Smith. Now, I don’t think her performance was bad, not even close, but it has more to do with the story, which the major sticking point is keeping this from being a great period drama.
The first half plays out almost exactly like “Pride & Prejudice”. Perhaps this did happen to Jane Austen in real life and thus inspired the great novel, but it had this ‘been there, done that’ feeling if anything has ever seen any adaptation, especially the most recent one in 2005, starring Keira Knightly. Replace Elizabeth with Jane (makes sense since, like most writers, she based characters on herself), Mr. Darcy with Lefroy and Lady Gresham (Smith) with Lady Catherine de Bourg (played in P&P ’05 by another dame, Judi Dench). There are also references to Jane Austen’s other novels, but this seemed the most prominent.
It isn’t until the second half where we get some real insight into Jane Austen’s life as she struggles with love and the times as a real life with Lefroy doesn’t seem possible without money. It goes outside the beauty of the English countryside with a stark contrast to the dirty and darkness of London. The problem, is do we learn anything about Jane Austen as a woman? We learn that times in the 18th and 19th century for women were tough (and continues throughout the 20th century), but we never really get to know Jane Austen.
Certainly, Becoming Jane is filled with fantastic acting, costume and production design, unfortunately the story falls somewhat flat. For all its flaws, the film is saved by the charms of its two leads in Hathaway and McAvoy. They look incredible onscreen together and develop a nice chemistry from their bitter first meeting to the melancholy final one.
Although I think this could’ve been a fantastic biopic and the story never really explores Jane Austen to her fullest (I’m still interested in her later years), Becoming Jane is still a fine piece of work worthy of recognition if not for the performances, including a believable British accent from Hathaway, at least for the technical aspects.
Filmmakers’ Commentary – Director Julian Jarrold, co-writer Kevin Hood and producer Robert Bernstein contribute a commentary for the film. It’s not entirely lively and it’s hard to distinguish who is talking, but each give comments on the movie like where it was filmed, casting, etc. There is also the option of reading the commentary using subtitles.
Deleted Scenes (19:28) – 13 scenes are included, some extended from what was seen in the film, but most cut out to trim the fat. While it is nice to see some of Anne Hathaway, there isn’t anything here of note.
Discovering the Real Jane Austen (16:58) – Based on the title, I thought this had potential for those of us who are not Jane Austen aficionados to learn about the, you know, real Jane Austen. Sadly, only the first 5 minutes or so actually talk about Jane Austen herself with the rest devoted on the ‘making of’ Becoming Jane featuring interviews with the cast and crew.
Becoming Jane Pop-Up Facts and Footnotes – Probably as close to a ‘real Jane Austen’ as we’ll get on this disc, this is a good trivia track that covers everything from filming locations to the times that Jane Austen lived in (and her family life) to other bits of trivia about the land.
.::AUDIO & VIDEO::.
Although not as gorgeous looking as Joe Wright’s Pride & Prejudice, Julian Jarrold’s direction and Eigil Bryld’s cinematography come onto the small screen fairly soft, but still looking very nice to the eye. It is presented in anamorphic widescreen with a 2.35 OAR.
A Dolby Digital 5.1 track provides suitable sound for the feature.
Even though Becoming Jane doesn’t go beyond status as a good film, it’s still worth watching for the fine performances and, if you’re interested, great costume and set designs. I only wish the film delved deeper into the character, though I realize it is called Becoming Jane for a reason...