I first saw this movie (based on the biography of Jane Austen by Jon Spence) on You Tube. I thought it was okay. On first glance, I enjoyed the music and scenery (actually Ireland, not Hampshire). I saw it again, and was very surprised by the superb acting, especially by the younger actors. There were a few moments, involving Tom Lefroy’s wild behavior that seemed a bit extreme; aside from that, I have no complaints. This is a beautiful, intelligent movie that I highly recommend to all JA fans!
Warning: My review has MAJOR spoilers!
Anne Hathaway plays the 20 year old Jane who, over one tumultuous summer, falls in love with charming lawyer-in-training Tom Lefroy (James McAvoy). Tom was sent to the country to stay with his cousins by his uncle, a high court judge. This uncle, upon whom Tom relied, disapproved of his wild behavior (gambling, boxing, carousing with women, etc.) Tom is also a great pal of the eldest Austen son, Henry (Joe Anderson, a very cute/blonde young actor).
Did you know Anne did her senior thesis at Vassar on JA’s works? She takes her role seriously here. Anne’s take on Jane seems well-researched; she never looks out of place. She learned to write and play paino like JA did! Upon first meeting Tom, Jane is not impressed. In a letter, she calls him “insolent, arrogant, impudent, insufferable, impertinent.” He is bored with this new “rural” set of people, and thinks he’s above them. Shades of Mr. Darcy!
The Austen parents, James Cromwell and Julie Walters, are grounded in life’s realities, but they married for love.
“That girl needs a husband. But who’s good enough? Nobody!” -Mrs. Austen laments
Father is more sensitive to Jane’s wishes; mother is more of a realist.
“Jane should have not the man who offers the best price, but the man she wants.” -Rev. Austen
I liked Cromwell very much in this role; it really suited him. (He can currently be seen as George H. W. Bush in Oliver Stone’s biopic W.)
“I will not marry without affection, like my mother!” -Jane to Mrs. Austen
“Affection is desirable. Money is absolutely indispensable!” -Mrs. Austen to Jane
Another great supporting character is Jane’s beloved older sister Cassandra (Anna Maxwell Martin). She is the shy, sweet, obedient girl in the family. But her fiancé, the young parson-to-be, Mr. Fowl, dies overseas of yellow fever. Cassie, who feels very deeply, never thinks of another man. (This would later become the impetus for Persuasion.) Anna suits her role very well; she had been in many period dramas, including North & South and Bleak House.
Henry, who also has a sub-plot, is pursued by their elegant, widowed older cousin, a French countess by marriage. Eliza is the voice of the experienced, worldly woman in Jane’s life. The countess uses her beauty, charm, and (especially) money to gain Henry’s interest.
“Sometimes affection is a shy flower that takes time to blossom.” -Mr. Wisley to Jane
As you may know, Jane received a few marriage proposals over her short life. One such offer comes from the tall, quiet, socially awkward Mr. Wisley (Laurence Fox) who will inherit the property of his childless, wealthy aunt, Lady Gresham (Maggie Smith). (Wisley is loosely based on Harris Biggs, a man who proposed to the real JA when she was 27.)
Laurence Fox is the son of actor James Fox and cousin of the lovely Emilia Fox (who appeared as Miss Darcy in the popular Pride & Prejudice miniseries). Laurence recently played Cecil in the new version of A Room With A View. Mr. Wisley slowly grows to admire Jane’s independent spirit. Lady Gresham brings to mind Lady Catherine from P&P, though she is a bit more humane.
Tom Lefroy was believed to be the one love of Jane’s life. Below is a pic of the real Tom!
The young couple are ill-suited for each other, according to the prevailing thought of the day. Though Tom seems like a free-wheeling, carefree guy, Tom is from a poor family in Limerick who depend upon him for support. (His mother married his father for love, and they had many children.) He’s the kind of young man who must marry for money, or wait until he has made some on his own. But, like Jane, he has a non-conformist side.
Tom recommends that Jane read Tom Jones to learn more about the world of young men. He never says anything negative about her desire to be a novelist.
“If you wish to practice the art of fiction, to be considered the equal of a masculine author, experience is vital.” -Tom advises
“I think that you, Miss Austen, consider yourself a cut above the company.” -Tom comments during a public assembly (dance).
“Me?” -Jane replies with surprise.
“You, ma’am. Secretly.” -Tom observes wisely.
The main reasons to see this movie: James (and his very fine eyes- a great compliment in JA’s time), the terrific chemistry between him and Anne, and the gorgeous music. James (the more I see of him, the more I want to see!) is full of energy, empathy, grace and style in this film. He sinks seamlessly into his character, and these costumes look (especially) good on his frame. He’s one of those (rare) young men who’s not afraid to look vulnerable. His eyes are very expressive. Anne calls him “a legend in the making” on the special features. Check out Becoming Jane ASAP!