Name: margalit
Location: Massachusetts, United States Professional writer, educational advocate, opinionated ultra liberal mother of 18 year old twins, living life in the slow lane due to hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, congestive heart failure, and diabetes.

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Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Becoming Jane is a Pleasant Interlude

Today I took my kids to see Becoming Jane, the recently opened film depicting the fictious life of English author Jane Austin. This charming movie was grounded in more than actual history and is more of a tale based upon actual Austin historians and authors who have gone through Jane's remaining correspondence and piecing together a love story that may or many not have occurred when Austin was 20 years of age.

Anne Hathaway stars as a visually perfect Jane Austin, with bright white teeth, shiny hair, unblemished and seemingly airbrushed skin, and the most gorgeous visage, unlike the actual Jane, who was plain and not ever described as beautiful by those who knew her. But let's face it, people want to see a pretty character, so Hathaway was chosen as Jane. However unimpressed I am with Hathaway's acting chops, she did an excellent job of portraying Austin. She was terrific for not only nailing the British accent with few obvious flaws, but also caught the subtle mannerisms and expressions of a young middle class gentlewoman from country society. She delivers the sparkling dialog with the right amount of nuance and humor that Austin was so known for.

James McAvoy plays Tom LeFroy, Austin's Irish gentleman dashing love interest. He portrays LeFroy as a legal scholar of little means and a scandelous past who is living solely on the income of his uncle. As a punshment LeFroy is sent to the country to stay with relatives, where he encounters Jane. At first they dislike each other and mistake their feelings for malevolence. But the couple's chemistry makes for a convincing love story, even when it is not actually a biopic. The delicacy of feelings and expressions allow us to enjoy the more elegant and well-spoken world than our own, and make for a charming tale of romance and humor.

Visually, the movie is as lush and green as it's landscape. Ireland substituted for rural Hampshire, England, but no matter. It evoked the period, the difference between how thewealthy and the middle classes lived, and showed the humdrum lives of young women of little means waiting for a suitable marriage proposal.

The costumes and sets were equally lucious, with warm delicate colors and rich fabrics used throughout. The ballroom scenes, with the stilted dances of the times, gave a feeling of the suffication characters in Austin novels often expressed. The film gave over to the lack of choices women faced, and the pressure that was upon them to find a marriage to a man of means, regardless of how she felt about him personally.

Supporting performances by James Cromwell and Julie Walters as Jane's long suffering parents, are particularly noteworthy, as is Maggie Smith as the wealthy patroness and insufferable snob who believes she has the right to control the lives of all around her. Smith evokes Lady Catherine, the patroness in Pride and Prejudice, as she tries to manipulate the Austin family to force Jane to marry her nephew, played by Laurence Fox.

Of course, this being a story based on little fact, many questions arise. Would Jane have passionately kissed LeFroy? Would she have agreed to elope with him, even though he was penniless and had little possibility of gaining and income? Had this relationship really occurred, did it destroy the possibility of love for Jane, who remained single for the rest of her short life?

This is a bittersweet story, and the final scene, where a middle aged Jane attends a concert of a professional female opera singer and runs into LeFroy after so many years, shows that Jane has come to terms with her place in society as an unmarried woman and a writer who has gained fame. In actuality, Jane never knew the fame her novels would eventually produce, having died of Addison's Disease at the age of 41.

While Becoming Jane embraces the spirit of the much-loved novelist, some movie goers will see this film entirely unfamiliar with Austin's 6 published novels. Shame on them for missing one of the greatest bodies of work in the English language. However, you do not have to be familiar with Jane's novles to enjoy the film, although you might lose some of the more subtle dialog pointing to Austin's work. Anyone can see this film as a romantic tale of middle class English country life, as well as being able to capture some of Austin's playful sense of humor and sharp intellect.

For a more indepth review, go to my review site.

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Blogger SAJ said...

wow. you sold me. :)

9/8/07 3:22 PM  

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