Austen biopic lacks writers charms

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The misty hills, the green trees, the sound of birdsong. A stream. A farm. A beautiful young woman sitting at her window. Yes, we are in Jane Austen territory - hip deep in it, one might say - in Becoming Jane, a movie biography of the sort that attempts to find creative inspiration in the very life of the creator.

The misty hills, the green trees, the sound of birdsong. A stream. A farm. A beautiful young woman sitting at her window. Yes, we are in Jane Austen territory - hip deep in it, one might say - in Becoming Jane, a movie biography of the sort that attempts to find creative inspiration in the very life of the creator. Jane Austen, this movie says, lived inside a Jane Austen novel, albeit one with a more bittersweet ending than the real Jane would have allowed. The result is a mixture of charm - who doesnt want a new Jane Austen story? - and calculation - who needs a mock Jane Austen story? - that probably misstates the creative impulse but nevertheless allows us to bask in the fiction that we are seeing the real Mr. Darcy court the real Elizabeth Bennet in the real life of a favourite author. The film stars Anne Hathaway (The Devil Wears Prada), whose thin, full-lipped beauty accounts for the stampede of proposals inflicted upon the movies Jane. The daughter of an obscure, impecunious clergyman (James Cromwell), she is a spirited young woman whom everyone is trying to marry off to the wealthy but decidedly wet Mr. Wisely (Laurence Fox.) Jane, however, will not marry without affection. Cue Tom Lefroy (The Last King of Scotlands James McAvoy), a roistering young Irish rake and penniless lawyer - a rather charming notion, but apparently they existed in 19th century England - who will become her Mr. Darcy, the self-important, insufferable cad with whom she will nonetheless fall madly in love. The obscure, impecunious reference comes from Lady Gresham, Mr. Wiselys wealthy aunt, who is played by Maggie Smith as if she were auditioning for The Importance of Being Earnest. Shes a sour dowager with a dry impatience with all that does not meet her standards (told that Jane is writing, she asks, Can nothing be done about it?) Becoming Jane, like much of Austens oeuvre, concerns itself in the end with the question of money. Young Jane has none; Mr. Wisely can get his hand on lots; poor Tom is subject to the whims of a rich uncle (Ian Richardson), a domineering magistrate who would be at home in a Dickens novel. A key moment in Becoming Jane comes when Tom brings Jane home for his uncles blessing, only to see them get into an argument about the role of irony in modern life. Jane believes it is formed of conflicting truths that marry to form a new truth, one told with humour. The judge believes it is insult with a smiling face. Hathaway is far too pretty for Jane, but the character has the kind of feminist backbone that we always suspected of the author. McAvoy, on the other hand, seems like a sketch for Mr. Darcy (or at least for Colin Firth), a slightly feckless hero whose manly high spirits seem forced. He hardly seems like the prize-fighter he is pictured to be, and the devil-may-care texture of a scene where he plays cricket with Jane, then runs through the woods to the lake for a skinny dip, must be taken mostly on faith. Austen had a real Lefroy in her life, but their relationship was probably not more than a flirtation; Becoming Jane makes it sexy. Three stars out of five

Geographic location: Jane Austen territory, England

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