Now Showing at: several major theaters.
Review by: Larry Thomas
Jane Austen, the daughter of a poor country clergyman, managed to write some
of the most revered novels in English literature during her brief forty-one
years on earth. Her use of characters, dialogue, and irony were integral in
making "Pride and Prejudice," "Sense and Sensibility," "Persuasion," and others
the literary sensations of their day. They not only laid the groundwork for
the romance novel industry, but have also spawned films of virtually all her
Becoming Jane is the film representation of Jane Austen's life. Portrayed
by Brooklyn's Anne Hathaway, the actress does well by her subject, affecting
a believable British accent, and being quite comfortable in the role. Austen
is pictured as a freethinking, self-sufficient woman who is quite ahead of her
time. If the film's script is rooted in truth, without allowing too much "dramatic
license," then Jane Austen should have had quite an interesting life and career.
Unfortunately, the filmmakers have managed to turn this saga into a stodgy,
almost boring film. Characters are uninteresting, dialogue is flat, and the
action crawls at a snail's pace. Even usually fine supporting performers like
Julie Walters and James Cromwell as Austen's parents, and legendary Maggie Smith
as the redoubtable dowager with a nephew who's interested in marriage, seem
to sleepwalk through their roles.
The director, Julian Jarrold, and many of the cast and crew came to Becoming
Jane from British series television. And, indeed, Becoming Jane seems
much like two episodes of "Masterpiece Theatre" strung together to justify its
exposure on the big screen. Perhaps it will fare better on DVD, so that it can
be watched in the style of a television series.
Scottish actor James McAvoy, who was so good as the title character in The
Last King of Scotland, and as Mr. Tumnus, the Faun, in The Chronicles
of Narnia, is acceptable in his role…what there is of it. Granted,
it's not his story, but if the character was that important to Austen, he should
have resonated with emotion, instead of just "being there."
The one real find in the film is Lucy Cohu as a French countess, an Austen cousin,
who has eyes for the family's younger. She is warm, wise, beautiful and quite
everything a character in a film like this should be.
Most of the film deals with Jane Austen's coming-of-age just prior to her fame
as an author…her family life, love found and lost, several suitors, and
striking the right balance between being a proper Briton of the times, and being
her own woman in charge of her destiny.
Becoming Jane looks good, with proper attention paid to costumes, settings,
photography and lighting. As with several other British films of late, much
of the dialogue is mumbled with such a thick accent as to render it unintelligible.
In many scenes, subtitles would be an asset.
There have been many fine film versions of Jane Austen novels…Sense
and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, Emma, to name just three,
and even contemporary adaptations such as Clueless. All are worth a viewing,
and are readily available on DVD.
Perhaps instead of wading through this muddle of a film, spend your time reading
a biography of Jane Austen, or reading one, if not all, of her books.