I’ve delayed watching this movie till now. I wanted to avoid all that hype about Jane Austen. Even as a JA fan, I’ve hesitated jumping on the Austen bandwagon of what I suspect to be mere commercialism. Well, after a few months waiting for the dust to settle, I went into a second-run movie theatre this crisp October day with very little expectation, and was pleasantly surprised…I thoroughly enjoyed the movie!
As I mentioned in my reply to a visitor who had left a comment on my WWAW post, like many of life’s simple pleasures, a movie does not have to be ‘deep’ to be enjoyable. However, simplicity does not mean superficiality. Becoming Jane is heart-felt story-telling. It has many witty renderings especially carved out for Austen readers, like the mirror images reminiscent of Pride and Prejudice. The first part of the movie moves along breezily with its humour; but it is the sombreness in the latter part that makes the story so poignant.
Based on the recorded short-lived courtship between Austen and a young lawyer named Tom Lefroy, the backdrop of the movie has its historical accuracy: the Austen family, Jane’s close relationship with her sister Cassandra, the inequitable social environment wherein Jane as a female, had to write anonymously, and the torment that one had to face having to choose between marrying to survive and marrying for love, and suffer the social disgrace and financial ruins resulting from it.
Other than the basic background, the movie never intends to be a serious, historically grounded account. It is pure fiction, and as one of the contemporaries of Jane Austen the Gothic writer Ann Radcliffe says in the movie, it is the imagination, and not real-life experience, that gives rise to story-telling. From this spirit evolves the beautiful story of Becoming Jane, purely imaginary, idealistic, noble, and yet painfully poignant. The movie leads us ever so subtly to realize the bitter taste of love over the sweetness of romance.
The simple script will not work if not for the great acting, or understated acting rather, of all its cast members. Anne Hathaway has once again robbed the Brits of a coveted role, yes, an American playing one of the best-loved British authors (The other one I’m thinking of is Renée Zellweger playing Bridget Jones). James McAvoy is comparable in his charm as Tom Lefroy. The supporting roles are all played by excellent veterans like Maggie Smith, Julie Walters, Ian Richardson, and James Cromwell. Anna Maxwell Martin as Cassandra provides immeasurable support to Hathaway. I was deeply affected by her lead role as Esther Summerson in the BBC production of Bleak House (2005). Here once again she has demonstrated that her acting is superb.
I have enjoyed the cinematography, the costume, the music, and yes, even the disheartened twist at the end. I came out of the movie theatre contented. So what if the story is pure speculation. Sometimes it takes the imaginary to lead us to look more directly at love, life, and the choices we make. Maybe that’s why we are always drawn to stories, fiction … and movies.