Film Review: Becoming Jane (2007)

“Consider, this is likely to be your best offer”

(This was actually written before Helen McCrory Weekend was conceptualised but I felt it fitted in better here than in the post-Christmas splurge.) Another film that was over Christmas that I hadn’t seen before was Becoming Jane. Falling neatly into the costume drama niche, I thought I was in for a nice time but it all too easily fell into one of those traps most beloved by playwrights when writing about real people: fictionalised reality. So what we have is a mixture of truth about Jane Austen’s life and a fictionalised version of a romance with lawyer Thomas Lefroy, combined with the additional directorial choice of having the events of the film be the direct inspiration for Austen’s first novel, Pride and Prejudice.

What this meant was that much of the film was robbed of its spontaneity. Julie Walters as the hectoring mother and James Cromwell as the kindly father were entirely predictable, as was Maggie Smith’s Lady Gresham – the Lady Catherine de Bourgh figure. There was hardly any room for the story to breathe of its own accord which was a real shame as this was where it was actually better. The chemistry between Anne Hathaway and James McAvoy as Austen and Lefroy – apparently the bona fide inspiration for the character of Darcy – is palpable and effectively deployed throughout the film, as Austen’s certainties crumble in the face of genuine passion. And also in the slightly transgressive romance between Jane’s brother and her older widowed cousin, the seductive Comptesse de Feullide played with glee by Lucy Cohu, an actress I love and whose presence I was nicely surprised with in this.

Someone else whose presence I was not aware of was queen of my theatrical heart, Helen McCrory. But sadly, it was a rather bizarre little cameo, as established authoress Mrs Radcliffe, which I didn’t enjoy as an odd portrayal of an odd character and thus immediately scored minus points with me for not showing off her potential to anywhere near its best. Leo Bill as a would-be suitor hanging around Austen’s petticoats and Anna Maxwell Martin as sister Cassandra upped the thesp stakes for me, but as a whole, I have to say I found the film less than compelling.

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