Monday, March 31, 2008

Becoming Jane

Chick-flick alert!!!

Yes, this is a true movie for girls. It has a dashing man, a believable (flawed) leading lady, some heaving-breast moments and a bittersweet ending. Of course we could wish for a happy ending as Jane Austen bestowed on her characters, but in this case we can't fight history.

I thoroughly enjoyed this film. I know there was a bit of an outcry at an American playing an Englishwoman, but Anne Hathaway carries it off very well and if you didn't know it, you wouldn't guess she wasn't English. The very magnetic James McAvoy plays Jane's love interest, Tom Lefroy. Although I had heard rave reviews about James McAvoy this is the first film I have seen with him and it is more than enough to make me want to see more. James is Scottish by the way, with a pretty heavy accent when 'himself', but as Tom LeFroy you wouldn't know he was anything other than English either.

The very talented Julie Walters (of Billy Elliott fame) plays Mrs Austen and James Cromwell (the Babe movies) plays Mr. Austen. The wonderful Dame Maggie Smith plays Lady Gresham and Lawrence Fox plays her nephew, Mr. Wisley.

The story begins with a Jane in her early 20s - talented and accomplished but knowing little of the ways of the wider world, including matters of the heart, which she expressly wishes to write about. Mr Lefroy is a student of the law, totally dependant on his wealthy and harsh uncle, a High Court judge. Tom lives in London where, as a sophisticate, he indulges in boxing, drinking and women. His uncle decides to teach him a lesson and sends him to his other uncle who lives in the Hampshire countryside. His first meeting with Jane is when she is performing a reading of one of her more juvenille works - dedicated to her newly engaged sister. Tom is mortified by the entertainment and he just knows this 'country' life is going to be dreadful. Jane is equally mortified at Tom's poor judgement of her work.

Shortly thereafter they meet in the forest where all angst is veiled in politeness and then at a dance when Jane begins to be interested, purely because she perceives Tom to be rude, arrogant and self-absorbed. Tom introduces her to the book "Tom Jones" - not recommended reading for young ladies - and they actually begin to enjoy each other's company as verbal sparring partners and slowly feelings of a romantic nature begin.

In the meantime, Jane is made an offer of marriage by the rather boring Mr. Wisley and at a dance is called for an interview by his Aunt, where Jane is strongly compelled to accept Mr Wisley's offer. Disappointed at this thought, Jane escapes outside where she is followed by a concerned Tom. Jane and Tom finally admit their feelings much to each other's delight, but overshadowed by needing the approval Tom's benefactor.

Tom manages to bring Jane to his uncle's attention with the presence of Jane's brother and a cousin - a beautiful, wealthy and widowed Comtesse. A letter, author unknown, arrives however and the uncle dashes the hope of approval. Tom and Jane part, believing they can never be together.

Shortly after Jane hears that Tom is engaged and she is sadly disappointed, so finally accepts Mr Wisley's offer. Tom is visiting his Hampshire uncle and he and Jane meet by chance in the woods. Tom realises he can't live a lie and offers Jane an elopement. She agrees and they escape shortly after. On their journey their coach gets stuck in the mud and while Jane is holding Tom's coat a letter falls out. Being a typical woman, she reads it and finds out that Tom is supporting his family back in Ireland. The knowledge that their marriage will cause his Uncle's allowance to cease which would badly affect his family, leads Jane to rejecting Tom's offer and returning home alone. She doesn't marry Mr. Wisley either but hopes to rely on her pen for her income.

The whole experience was a huge learning experience for Jane and her writing benefits greatly. After this you see her embark fully on the story of Pride & Prejudice.

Skip 20 odd years and a middle aged Jane is listening to a singer and sees Tom in the distance. They meet again, Tom accompanied by his young daughter, named Jane.

Throughout the film you see little bits of many of Jane's future characters which is tantalising and enjoyable. There is sufficient sexual tension between Jane and Tom to make it believable too. All in all a film to enjoy once (or more)!

Note: The film encouraged me to do a little research on Jane Austen's life and there was indeed a Tom Lefroy in her life although the extent of their relationship is unknown. Jane never married although she did reject one offer. She died in her early 40s. Tom became Chief Justice of Ireland and lived to 90 years of age.


Michelle said...

I really enjoyed this film as well.

Anonymous said...

I love Jane Austen's novels! I've read all of them multiple times and watched all the more recent film & tv adaptations (the BBC version of Pride and Prejudice is my all time favourite!). Have you read Lady Susan, The Watsons and Sandition (all unfinished works) - frustrating not to have an ending but they are worth a read none-the-less. Jane Austen died way too young, I wish she'd managed to churn out many more novels!

Anonymous said...

The Real Jane Austen is a great documentary about Jane's life. It's narrated by Anna Chancellor (who played Caroline Bingley in the BBC version of Pride and Prejudice and is a great niece of Jane Austen.