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
Ms. Place has also posted an interesting review, with lots of pics from the movie, at Jane Austen’s World.