Review by Jack Foley
DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Behind the Scenes; Regency Dance Featurette; Hair, Make-up & Costume Design Featurette; Filming the Cricket Scene; Filming the Boxing Scenes; Deleted Scenes; Theatrical Trailer; Commentary; Photogallery.
FANS of Joe Wright’s recent adaptation of Pride & Prejudice should flock to Becoming Jane, a near-perfect companion piece that explores how Jane Austen first found love and became inspired to write some of her most famous works.
Julian Jarrold’s movie is a masterful piece of work that succeeds both visually and emotionally. It also boasts a cracking cast on top form.
Anne Hathaway stars as young scribe Jane Austen who spends most of her time scribbling stories and reading the results for the amusement of her family.
But her life is transformed by the arrival of Tom Lefroy (James McAvoy), a cad who has been sent to the country to learn some manners who immediately stirs hidden passions in Jane.
As friendship turns to love, however, difficult decisions lay in store as they attempt to overcome disapproving parents and secrets from the past that continually threaten their happiness.
Sceptics may argue that Becoming Jane takes too many liberties with Austen’s real life, whilst lamenting the casting of an American A-lister as their quintessentially English heroine.
But Jarrold’s movie confidently overcomes such hurdles to deliver the kind of bittersweet romance that should melt all but the hardest hearts. Hathaway, for her part, is utterly convincing as Austen complete with a note-perfect English accent.
The film’s central conceit – that Jane’s relationship with Tom ultimately laid the foundations for many of her most famous works (most notably Pride & Prejudice) – is also very entertaining given the obvious parallels between the two recent films.
McAvoy’s Tom, in particular, embodies many of the qualities of Pride‘s Darcy, while Jane herself boasts same traits as Elizabeth Bennet, especially in terms of her obvious wit, her rebellious nature and her close relationship to her father and sister.
In fact, watch Becoming Jane and Pride & Prejudice together and you have a virtual mirror image.
Of the performances, Hathaway provides a truly endearing presence as Jane, imbuing her with all the qualities expected from her fans, while Julie Walters is typically superb as her anxious mother and James Cromwell does good work as her sympathetic father.
But it’s McAvoy who emerges with most credit proving, once again, that he’s fast-becoming one of Britain’s most valuable assets.
His outwardly charismatic Tom Lefroy ultimately gives way to a more quietly sensitive romantic hero whose all-consuming passion for Jane leads to much heartbreak. It’s a superb performance that even gives rise to the suspicion that he would have made a far better Darcy than Matthew Macfadyen.
Let’s not forget, too, that the film is notable for featuring the last big screen performance from the late Ian Richardson, as Tom’s disapproving mentor, and succeeds in providing a significant reminder of his immense talent.
In terms of direction, Jarrold also excels, his film effortlessly conveying a sense of time and place and making superb use of colour on several occasions – the fashions of the era are cleverly set against some sweeping countryside and coastal backdrops.
Indeed, the only real criticism is a flabby running time that may give rise to some fidgeting towards the end.
In all other respects, Becoming Jane is a charming experience that should leave Austen fans and hopeless romantics with a suitably warm glow.
Running time: 2hs