Becoming Jane

Posted October 1, 2007 in Film

If Britney Spears published a book on good parenting, it’d be no less a contradictory puzzle than Jane Austen’s novels. Historians have long been bedeviled by how an innocent spinster who lived alone with her unmarried sister Charlotte had pitch-perfect insight into the tangle of romance. The only hint that Austen might have ever been kissed is a handful of letters to Charlotte where she rags on a visiting Irishman named Tom Lefroy and confesses that at the last ball, she danced with him an improper amount. With a dash of sleuthing and a dose of hopeful thinking, Kevin Hood and Sarah Williams have blown the flirtation into a Great Romance, breathlessly and stubbornly played by Anne Hathaway and go-to UK rake James McAvoy. At first, the flick seems to slip off its white gloves: five minutes in, Mrs. Austen (Julie Walters) delights in some morning nookie, protesting feebly that "It’s Sunday!" Later, Tom–a swoony blend of Mr. Darcy and a wiry fighting dog–draws close to Jane and purrs about how the birds of the woods mate ecstatically. If Hathaway’s accent falters, her blushing cheeks speak volumes. But, inexorably, Regency Era ethics take hold, making the refusal to gold-dig a punishable offense. Like Austen’s novels, we’re supposed to cheer along with the heroine’s rebellion even as we know that in real-life, happy endings aren’t guaranteed. This level-headed romance navigates the divide better than most; still, by the epilogue where a faded, fragile Jane reads from her books–her spirited youth long forgotten–the independent women in the audience have started reconsidering the last suitor they casually dismissed.


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