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Andy Bockelman: No plain ‘Jane’

Biopic a thoughtful portrait of Jane Austen

— In “Becoming Jane,” the beginning of authoress Jane Austen’s career is examined, giving viewers greater insight into the mind of a writer who was ahead of her time.

Twenty-year-old Jane Austen (Anne Hathaway) is dissatisfied with her lot in life. She wishes to pursue a career in writing while the rest of her family wants her to be married as soon as possible, for the sake of finances rather than her happiness. Jane has no wishes to marry for any reason except love, and the men available to her have little appeal. However, everything changes when restless Irishman Tom Lefroy (James McAvoy) comes to the countryside to stay with his relatives. Jane’s initial impression of the young man is unfavorable; she finds him detestable because of his inescapable haughtiness, but even more so because of his attitude towards her writing, which he finds to be hopelessly limited. In spite of this poor first encounter, the two of them are inexorably drawn to each other, withstanding opposition from practically everyone around them.

The casting of Hathaway in a British role is not unlike Renee Zellweger’s venture across the pond in movies such as the Austenesque “Bridget Jones’s Diary” or the recent “Miss Potter.” The results are most certainly just as favorable, with Hathaway giving an outstanding performance. McAvoy, most familiar from “The Last King of Scotland” and “The Chronicles of Narnia,” proves to be a proficient romantic character and lights up the screen by himself just as much as he does when in the company of Hathaway. Playing Jane’s devoted father and well-meaning, but nagging mother are James Cromwell and Julie Walters, making the elder Austens a sympathetic couple. Making too brief of an appearance is Maggie Smith as Lady Gresham, a wealthy woman who shows an interest in Jane in order to marry off her dull nephew (Laurence Fox).

The details of Austen’s life are tweaked quite a bit in order to suit the movie’s premise as a romance. In actuality, the relationship between Austen and Tom Lefroy was not as pronounced as the movie portrays it, making it more speculative than anything else. However, this alteration of the facts is used in order to convey how Austen’s early life inspired her work. It is intriguing to see how the writer used examples from experience to form novels such as “Emma,” “Sense and Sensibility,” and most importantly “Pride and Prejudice,” which features an unmistakable acknowledgment of Lefroy in the character of Mr. Darcy. Another noteworthy literary tidbit is the debate between the two of them regarding the book “Tom Jones,” mostly because of Lefroy’s similarity with the title character.

Set against breathtaking scenery, employing exceptional costumes, and strikingly framed, “Becoming Jane” is a thoughtful and warm biopic that can best be described as very becoming.


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