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12 March 2007 @ 09:18 am
Becoming Jane  
Well, I went to see Becoming Jane last night and I thought I'd post a (ridiculously long) review. Before I do though, I thought I'd better point out the following:

- I loathe P&P 2005 with all the burning passion of firey hell and much bashing of said film will ensue in this review!
- I secretly quite like Anne Hathaway (ssh).
- My expectations were so low that it couldn't possibly have been worse than I was expecting.

I thought it was quite good. I rather enjoyed it, but I still had plenty to disapprove of.

Good things first.

It was an improvement on Pride and Prejudice. Anne Hathaway is a better actress than Keira Knightley (IMO) and more suited to the role of JA than KK was to Elizabeth Bennet (not that that would be hard). Her accent did slip a few times though, which was a shame, but was generally convincing. James McAvoy was delightfully good looking and charming. The minor roles were well played, especially Maggie Smith and Anna Maxwell Martin as Cassandra.

I liked the references to her writing, however minor. They did give Jane a wit and cleverness. I had been afraid they would make her simply insipid, but they did not.

I don't know how much they were trying to make her the prototype for all her heroines, but I saw more than Elizabeth Bennet. There were traces of Catherine in her apparent naivety (more on that later) and Anne in her "loving longest" at the end. I didn't find the idea that McAvoy inspired Darcy laboured though I think it was meant to be. I didn't see anything of Darcy in him except that he was a bit insulting to her at the beginning and to me it came over more that the inspiration stopped at "poor girl meets talldarkhandsome man" and falling in love herself helped her to understand such feelings. Obviously Cassandra and Robert were supposed to stand for Jane and Bingley but there was hardly anything in common with the two couples in the film and with the P&P couples. I thought Lefroy was presented far more as a Henry (Crawford/Tilney cross) than a Darcy. He was far too lively and good humoured and his "instruction" in writing that he gave to Jane was reasonably Tilneyish. However, his lack of decorum and good breeding (an elopement- honestly!) was more Crawford. In fact, ignoring the London trip and the elopement, the events in Hampshire fitted reasonably with the content of the letters. Ignoring the ridiculous romantic music and the longing looks, they did dance scandalously at a ball a few times... I thought it was interesting to try to match the events to all aspects of her plots and stories, though I'd have to see it a few more times to do that convincingly.

Perhaps I am attributing more intelligence to the film than was intended!

I didn't have a problem with Jane playing cricket (though I can't comment on whether the style of the game was contemporary). After all, Catherine played cricket, though she was younger than Jane was when she did. Also did not really have a problem with her giving the reading at the beginning. She did do plays with her family and it was a reasonably intimate gathering, though perhaps it was stretching it at her doing it with the Gresshams and Lefroys present. Still, didn't stand out too much for me. She did seem to be in an atmosphere of supportive encouragement.

The meeting with Mrs. Radcliffe was nice- shows the film makers have heard of her and that's positive I guess! Do not believe that Jane Austen really was as enthralled by the gothicness as was suggested. I doubt she took it that seriously. Likewise, cannot believe that she had not yet read Tom Jones. If for no other reason than that she grew up surrounded by brothers! Was amused by the idea that the film will probably encourage viewers to read it in the hope of getting 18th century porn- and will then be seriously disappointed! Tom Jones is a much greater novel than the titillation of Mrs. Waters' naked breast that they chose to draw attention to.

I also liked the aspects of the film which showed an inspiration for her novels in more than chick lit romance, which suggests that the film makers had more of a grasp on the books than might be thought. Mrs. Austen delivers the line, "Affection is desirable. Money is absolutely indispensible." which Jane clearly takes to heart and which really is reflected in her novels. Likewise, Jane made a line which was something like her heroes getting more than they deserved which I thought could be interpreted in the male characters being inferior to the heroines (Bingley for instance?). Again, perhaps I am reading too much into it! Nevertheless, signs of cynicism and wit did appear, more than I was anticipating!

Now for the criticisms. :)

It is entirely possible to play the "spot all the books/films ripped off" game in practically every scene. P&P 2005 was the main victim but unfortunately for that film Becoming Jane did it better! At least, for example, Lefroy's shirt was open in natural circumstances such as a boxing match as opposed to randomly walking through a field à la Heathcliffe. I guess that the reason I didn't find the P&P comparisons (which we were being hit over the head with) too bad was because they were clearly basing it on the P&P 2005 film and to me that has very little to do with the book I know and love. Also picked up of BBC P&P, A Room with a View and S&S, to mention just three others.

Still, enough with the "family is really poor and live on a farm" theme! The Bennets didn't on a farm and neither, dammit, did the Austens! George Austen was a clergyman so why on EARTH it was thought that he would have had to feed the pigs himself I have absolutely no idea. I'm not an expert on the period, but did Henry Tilney keep cows at Woodston? Did Mr. Collins muck out his own cows? Was Mr. Elton to be found in the chicken coop? I just don't get it. It's so unbelievably stupid. Also, it's AustEn not AustIn, as they were pronouncing it all through the film.

Also, enough with the weather symbolism. I believe it is possible for bad things to happen when the sun is shining brightly and good things to happen (that aren't necessarily passion drenched proposals of marriage) when it's pouring with rain!

I said Anne Hathaway was good. I did have reservations. She did the whole elbows-locked-in-place-with-clenched-fists stance that KK was so fond of in P&P 2005 but not too much and the posture of everybody was generally better though still not on a BBC level. The script was better than P&P 2005 though AH still had to deliver some lines that made her just appear petulant and sulky which is apparently now synonymous with spirited and witty. Could've been worse though.

Overall I found the plot far more Heyer than Austen. Lefroy with his boxing and his London chums and reliance on old uncle was far more in line with a Heyer hero than an Austen one. I have no problem with this as I like Heyer and on this level the film is very enjoyable though to expect anything more profound would be a mistake.

My greatest problem came at the end. Showing Jane years later and still affected by Lefroy is hardly commendable. Surely after 20 years or whatever she'll have got over him! Perhaps this is meant to channel Persuasion but I found it rather insulting. As for the whole idea that she couldn't possibly have written novels without a man that has been the greatest fear for this film, well, I didn't see it quite like that. From personal experience as an amateur writer, I believe that there is a point that seeing the world and gaining experience of any kind, including romantic, can only be beneficial to the writing and I felt that was more what the film was saying, more than Jane needed a man behind her. It was more her experience with Lefroy and just as much her observation of Cassandra and Robert and Henry and Eliza helped to form her view on the world as much as anything that ever happened to her or that she read. I thought that was the view being given off but this is a personal opinion. Jane did say at one point that, "for the rest is imagination". It's also not like they were saying that Jane never wrote anything until Lefroy came along, though the idea that she started writing P&P when she met him was presumptuous. At least they called it First Impressions. Thank goodness for small mercies!

Whether any of events actually happened is rather irrelevant as I was treating the whole thing as fiction based on her life.

Music was terrible. Anachronistic and far too romantic. Also seemed to be giving entirely the wrong mood in some scenes. There was one long musical passage before arriving at a ball which was all doom, gloom and broken hearts and there was absolutely no need for it. WTF. The one good bit was the dance Tom and Anne shared which was a fleshed out version of Cynthia and Mr. Preston's dance from BBC Wives and Daughters, a lovely piece, though as AH's Jane might have said, "Are there no other country dances available?" At least it wasn't Mr. Beveridge's Maggot.

Costumes were pretty random. Waist lines everywhere. Still, not as vile as the P&P 2005 ones.

There was one "Bingley-visits-Jane's-bedroom" moment when Jane helps Lefroy up after he's got knocked out. Hardly the place for a woman and was no-one else going to see if he was ok!? Also, the line that Jane uses to convince Cassandra to let her elope, about Robert- very insensitive. Not on. The whole elopement was ridiculous, but at least it showed a transition in Jane's mind from valuing romance to appreciating the material things in life, which while I am not in the slightest bit convinced ever happened, was a nice touch in this Made Up Story.

Unbelievably, I am running out of things to say. Well, I did quite enjoy it. Period drama fans will enjoy it because it is a period drama and some Jane Austen fans may well enjoy it, provided they don't go in expecting something realistic or subtle. Nevertheless, it was not as insulting to her as it could have been. Can't imagine any men would enjoy it!

Incidentally, do not remember ever seeing the scene from which my icon is taken in the film!
Current Location: Cambridge
Current Mood: accomplishedaccomplished
Current Music: Mozart: Adagio, violin concerto in G
my_stitchingmy_stitching on March 12th, 2007 03:09 pm (UTC)
Actually my husband quite enjoyed it. :)
Cyrindha: austen by angeleyesjg24cyrindha on March 12th, 2007 09:04 pm (UTC)
Thanks for the long review! I'm glad to hear that Lefroy is more Tilneyish than Darcy. I was afraid they'd just make him too much of a poor copy of Darcy because P&P is her most famous novel.

Could you perhaps tell more about what the Radcliffe meeting was like? I just read about that addition a couple of days ago and I'm curious to see how they've handled it. Does she give professional advice and encourage Jane, is Jane fangirly in her presence?
Marchioness of Vidal: Elizabethfair_terentia on March 13th, 2007 08:36 am (UTC)
Jane is slightly fangirlish which I think is a bit overdone considering what her opinion of gothic novels seem to be from NA. Now, Fanny Burney I could understand... Mrs. Radcliffe is presented as living very quietly and in a very un-gothic way which I quite liked. She presents a look at what Jane's life could be as a woman novelist and also gives the hope that she could do it and be married at the same time. It's an underplayed scene in a way.