After watching last night’s Masterpiece Theatre’s “Miss Austen Regrets”, the fourth installment of The Complete Jane Austen, I feel that something is missing in the title: a question mark. It should be “Miss Austen Regrets?” Making it like a statement as it is, the movie rests on the presumption that Jane indeed has regrets before her untimely death at age 41. What would she have regretted?
Would Jane have regretted not marrying for money? Would she have regretted not trading for a life of comfort in a loveless marriage as Mrs. Bigg-Wither? Would she have regretted not being a vicar’s wife living with Rev. Bridges and not seeing herself strive to become the writer that she is now? Would Elizabeth Bennet have married Mr. Darcy if he had not gained her total respect and requited love, even though she could have been Mistress of beautiful Pemberley? Fanny Knight would have regretted not getting married for marriage’s sake, as Jane had so incisively seen through her, but Jane herself?
While the movie Becoming Jane is a fantasy, where the imagination takes flight and the director can have a free hand, more or less, to bring to the screen a creative narrative of ‘what if’, “Miss Austen Regrets”, on the other hand, is supposed to be a biopic based on facts, from Jane’s correspondences with her niece Fanny. It is to present an interpretation of Jane’s unmarried predicament derived from what she says in these documents. I have not read these letters. For those who have, is the movie an accurate portrayal of Jane’s internal world?
Even towards the end of the movie, and her life, suffering illness and facing her mother’s scornful accusation, Jane adamantly replies she wouldn’t have sold her soul for wealth. What she has gained she succinctly answered Cassandra in one word, “Freedom”. If she has had any regrets, it would be a life too short to continue the little success she has achieved as a writer, of not earning enough money to support her mother and sister with her writing. In summing up, she feels she has walked the path that God has intended for her.
The title and premise of the film has painted the work with a dark and somber overtone, and Gillian Anderson’s introduction looks like a ghastly announcement of death toll. But the funny thing is: I totally enjoyed it last night! I was drawn to the movie’s engrossing scenes and intelligent dialogues, its beautiful cinematography and capricious camera work, the fast-paced story and the excellent editing embellished with a powerful score.
Olivia Williams and Imogen Poots as Aunt Jane and niece Fanny make an interesting pair, great contrast in character, and aptly playing out the embedded irony: the idealistic, unmarried Aunt giving practical advice on courtship to her young niece. The blurring of sarcasm and realism also makes the script ever more lively and intriguing. There may be a miscast in Cassandra, depicting her more like a mother than a sister two years older, but overall the cast is effective in telling the story with depth.
All in all, the movie has succeeded in portraying the complexity of characters and choices Jane has encountered in her short life. It may have come to a different conclusion as some viewers would like to see, but it has presented an aesthetically pleasing and enjoyable work.
And for me, Jane has chosen the road less travelled, and that has made all the difference…
~ ~ ~ Ripples
For a comprehensive review of “Miss Austen Regrets” written by Laurel Ann of Austenprose, go to PBS site “Remotely Connected”.
Ms. Place has also posted an interesting review, with lots of pics from the movie, at Jane Austen’s World.
13 thoughts on “Austen Regrets Becoming Jane?”
I also found myself surprised by how much I enjoyed this depiction of the latter years of Jane’s life. And though, as you mentioned, the story was fast-paced, the film never seemed to be. Though it covered quite a bit of time, it never felt rushed, but just the right speed to convey the waning years of her life.
This is one of my new favorite movies of all time!
Kaye Dacus: I think the film is very well done…let’s hope they’ll make more movies like this one in the days ahead. JA is one inexhaustible character! Thanks for stopping by.
I haven’t seen the film… but I think that those questions of “what would have happened” are testimonies of the richness of her as a characters, as she gives so much to think about. Especially because we are so used to see her think through life.
I decided to skip this one, but now I wonder if that was the wrong thing to do after reading your review.
eleiva: Yes, it’s amazing that Jane Austen’s life and works can still be so relevant in our present time, 200 years after her death!
bibliophylia: Just a short couple of months wait till the DVD comes out, in April…and until then, we’ve lots of JA to feast on.
I sympathize with your mixed reaction, Arti. I love Jane’s letters, and find her voice to be warmer and kinder (if still full of wit and at times biting) than the movie portrayed her. They’re tough to get through — all that looking back in the notes to try to figure out what’s going on and who she’s referring to — but lovely. The letters to Fanny are among my favorite.
Lori: Yes, I feel the movie character is a bit abrasive at times, not like what I’d imagine Jane to be like. From what you’ve said, I’ll certainly put Jane’s letters to Fanny in my future reading list. Thanks for stoppying by.
Yes, Arti, please do read Jane’s letters. Even though Cassandra burned so many of them, she still comes through as a vibrant, witty, and ‘real life’ woman. Your review was great and captured the ambivalence I felt about it. I’m not sure I enjoyed it as much as appreciated Olivia Williams’ fine performance and the gorgeous scenery.
Hi Arti! I’m trying to find a way of contacting you, but have yet to locate an email address– please get in touch with me at your convenience– I love your writing!
The Jane Austen Centre, Bath
It’s good to know you liked the movie–another DVD for me to buy. I think it comes bundled with the new S&S DVD.
So, who did Fanny marry in the end? Jane seemed to give her permission to make the choice and she did it. Who was the groom and what was his background. Maybe I missed a part explaining him. Thanks!
Fanny never married any of the young men she discussed with her Aunt Jane. She married Sir Edward Knatchbull in 1820 as his second wife three years after Jane died. Here’s some info about Knatchbull:
You may also like to read more about Fanny and Jane in this article:
Hope this helps. Thanks for stopping by!