HARVARD SQUARE COMMENTARY

August 27, 2007
Now Showing

Becoming Jane

John Turner


Since I'm a pushover for anything relating to Jane Austen, I went to see Becoming Jane, even though the reviews I had read didn't have much good to say about it.

The film purports to be biographical, but it's actually a story compounded from a few historical facts and a supposedly Jane Austen-like plot, except that it doesn't turn out happily as the real Austen novels do. In order to tell their story, writers Kevin Hood and Sarah Williams made the plight of the Austen family worse than it was. The Austens were never on the verge of poverty nor was Jane herself ever in danger of not having a fairly comfortable home and plenty to eat. It's true that during most of her adult life she didn't have money for luxuries and had to be careful with the small amounts she did have. But, on the other hand, she visited among some of the well-off families in the land and had a brother who was immensely wealthy. If her life was tragic, it was not for lack of money.

The conversation will persist forever about why Jane Austen never married. The two romances which have been most talked about were with Tom Lefroy, who is depicted in the film as her passionate lover, and an unnamed young man whom she met during a seaside holiday, who got sick and died shortly after the holiday was over. We don't know much about either of these connections, but it seems likely that the interlude with Tom Lefroy was simply a brief flirtation of the sort Jane Austen spells out in several of her novels.

In the film, however, it is a deep and tragic love, which could not be fulfilled because of hardhearted, stingy relatives, the worst being Tom's uncle, a viciously snobbish judge in London, on whom Tom depended for his financial support. The huge flaw in the plot is that there's no explanation about why Tom did not make his own fortune -- which he actually did rather handsomely -- and then return to Hampshire to reclaim Jane.

You shouldn't go to this film for history. Nor is Anne Hathaway's depiction of the heroine much like the author's genuine personality. Jane Austen was much sharper, of tongue and mind, than Ms. Hathaway manages to convey. Still, it's not a bad film and it reminds one of certain aspects of Jane Austen which, if you care about her, will touch your heart. Also, in the role of Tom, James McAvoy is about as appealing as you can imagine a young man being.

If you wonder about whether her life was sad, you can certainly find sad moments. But you should remember she was Jane Austen, and so it's hard to imagine a more glorious personal history than hers.


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