Friday, 3 August 2007
Becoming Jane (2007) dir. Julian Jarrold
Starring: Anne Hathaway, James McAvoy, Maggie Smith, Ian Richardson, Julie Walters
“Becoming Jane” is a harlequin-style 17th Century corset drama chronicling the formative creative years of the Queen of corsets herself, Jane Austin. I generally hate Jane Austin stuff but this isn’t half bad.
The film starts out as a happy-go-lucky pompous romp in the English country. Jane Austin (Anne Hathaway) is a poor country girl whose mother and father are desperately trying to marry her off to a wealthy gentleman. But Jane doesn’t want a loveless marriage like her mother and rejects the affections with traditional cinematic youthful rebelliousness. Jane’s sister asks her, “If money won’t satisfy you what kind of man will?” Enter Tom LeFroy, and rambunctious Irish lawyer who at the behest of his crusty old benefactor Uncle (Ian Richardson) is ordered to spend the summer in the country with his brother. In addition to his handsomeness Jane likes his rough Irish edges. Sparks fly between the two, though in traditional cinematic romance fashion she plays hard to get. The two eventually fall in love and appear to be destined to be together.
The courtship is perfunctory - scene after scene of recycled romantic material. The film doesn’t get interesting until the second half when Jane meets Tom’s family in London. Tom is faced with the same choice Jane had to make in choosing true love over wealth and family acceptance. And so when Tom pauses to consider the potential consequences it causes a major rift in their blissfulness.
I have to admit I can’t really tell the difference between “Sense and Sensibility”, “Pride and Prejudice”, or this film. In fact, I probably like this better, I’ll substitute Anne Hathaway for Keira Knightly and James McAvoy for Hugh Grant any day. Hathaway has natural beauty - her doughy eyes, porcelain white skin and competent accent make for a great English heroin. Taking a break from Hogwarts are Julie Walters and Maggie Smith, who play opposing mothers on opposite sides of the class system. Smith is certainly in familiar territory, as, other than say, Emma Thompson, nobody does British stuck-up better than Maggie Smith.
Putting Jane in the title and making the film the story of the actual Jane Austin doesn’t add value to film. I’d argue the film would have been better without the Jane Austin hook. In fact, her career as a writer is treated as a third tier subplot and doesn’t affect the core relationship at all. If Tom doubted Jane’s ability to make a career from writing, his choice in the end would be more complex, but instead it’s the usual story in these films – wealth, class and property. Yawn.
“Becoming Jane” is a terrible title, and after “Finding Neverland” and “Mrs. Potter”, can we put to rest dramatic films about British authors’ lives please? Hey, what about the porno version – “Banging Bronte”? Sorry, just a bubble thought.
The film actually looks pretty good. I noticed the top notch cinematography in the final act, where Tom and Jane's relationship struggles to stay afloat. Eigil Bryld desaturates the frame and opens the aperture full for a shallow depth of field, creating an isolating and cold feel.
If there were any doubts the women in the audience were into the movie they were erased when, in the final moments the audience drew a highly audible collective gasp at a last minute revelation. I giggled with joy, which confirmed my assertion that Jane Austin was the first Harlequin novelist. Enjoy.