February 19, 2008
Having broken through to the mainstream with The Devil Wears Prada (2006), actress Anne Hathaway tries her hand at the period film, a necessary step for anyone who wants to stretch themselves and demonstrate that they have range. Still early in her career, she has already dabbled in several genres, including the Disney film (The Princess Diaries), the independent film (Brokeback Mountain), and the romantic comedy (The Devil Wears Prada). With Becoming Jane (2007), Hathaway has taken on a daunting task: not only must she affect a credible British accent but she also is portraying a famous historical figure – Jane Austen, author of such literary classics like Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, and several others.
Set in 1795 England, Hathaway plays a young Jane, an aspiring writer who meets Tom Lefroy (McAvoy), an aspiring lawyer. She takes an instant dislike to him when he not only arrives in the middle of her reading, but afterwards he coldly critiques her writing behind her back. Of course, their paths cross on numerous occasions and they engage in several bouts of verbal sparring. Jane even shows Tom up in a game of cricket. It’s your typical battle of wills and it is only a matter of time before they break down their resolve and admit their attraction to each other.
Jane leads a sheltered life devoid of experience and it shows in her writing. Tom is all about acquiring life experience and this is what draws Jane to him. Her dilemma is an age old chestnut: does she marry for love or for money? She comes from a poor family that encourages her to marry an affluent man so that she’ll be taken care of but her heart belongs to someone who is also at a financial disadvantage.
Anne Hathaway and James McAvoy are fine in their respective roles, however, their characters, as written (by Sarah Williams and Kevin Hood), are bland. We never really grow to care about Jane’s plight because there just doesn’t seem like there is any real urgency or dramatic weight to it. The script fails to invest us in her dilemma despite Hathaway and McAvoy’s best efforts. It’s frustrating because the attention to period detail is excellent and succeeds in transporting us back to Jane’s time. Julian Jarrold’s direction is well-executed, not too flashy or too static. Ultimately, Becoming Jane is let down by its weak screenplay which plays things too safe.
There are 13 deleted scenes totaling almost 20 minutes. It would’ve been nice if this footage was accompanied by an optional commentary in order to put it in context and explain why they were cut.
There is an audio commentary by director Julian Jarrold, co-screenwriter Kevin Hood and producer Robert Bernstein. They talk about how they tried to stay true to the historical period while also praising Hathaway’s commitment to the part. This is a somewhat dry if not informative track.
“Discovering the Real Jane Austen” is a promotional featurette that briefly examines the film’s origins: the book of the same name that shed light on her life before she wrote her celebrated novels and what helped inspire them. Hathaway says that she did a lot of research, read several biographies of Jane Austen, and re-read the author’s entire canon. The production design, in particular the costumes, are examined. One gets the impression that Hathaway was very passionate about this film and portraying Austen.
“Becoming Jane Pop-Up Facts and Footnotes” allows you to watch the film with bits of trivia that pertain to the production and Austen’s life appears on-screen.