While Becoming Jane captures that certain romantic Jane Austen-esque spirit, it also gives a sobering look at the novelist's life and the constraints of her times.
See Jane dance and flirt. See Jane exchange witty repartee. See Jane fall deeply in love with the wrong boy. But mostly, see Jane become the beloved Victorian romantic author we've come to know. In a "what if" scenario, Becoming Jane combines bits and pieces of the real Austen's life, gathered from letters she wrote to her sister, with a somewhat fictitious account of her life as a 20-year-old, emerging as a writer, thinking way ahead of her time and dreaming of doing what was then nearly unthinkable--marrying for love. The young Jane Austen (Anne Hathaway) meets her match in Londoner Tom Lefroy (James McAvoy). Despite her parents' urgings to marry someone who could assure her future social standingand Jane's initial disregard for the roguish and decidedly non-aristocratic Tomthe two soon fall head over heels for each other. Their romance bucks all the sense and sensibility of the age, but reality hits hard when it's clear they will risk everything that matters--family, friends and fortune--if they marry. According to Becoming Jane, Jane's love dilemma, and inevitable heartbreak (the real Austen died a spinster), is what inspires her to write her tomes.
A self-proclaimed Jane Austen enthusiast herself, Hathaway fits right in as the budding author, perfecting the British accent and Victorian look. The actress' own free-spirited nature and spunkiness, seen in her films The Princess Diaries and The Devil Wears Prada, seep right through in Becoming Jane. The girl just can't help herself. Some ardent Austen scholars--who believe the real Austen was much more subdued in her demeanor--may scoff at how Hathaway plays Jane much like the author's most famous heroine, Pride & Prejudice's Elizabeth Bennet, but it works for the movie. Matching Hathaway every step of the way is McAvoy (The Last King of Scotland) as the young suitor Tom Lefroy. His devil-may-care attitude draws Jane in, as the two would-be lovers spar like champs. But once he falls hard for Jane, McAvoy breaks your heart. He, too, would have made a dashing Mr. Darcy. Becoming Jane's supporting players also keep up, especially consummate actors Julie Walters and James Cromwell as Jane's parents. They play the elder Austens with much affection. But despite the fact that they married for love, Walters' Mrs. Austen doesn't want the same life for her daughter. "I don't want you to pick potatoes like me!" she exclaims. Women of that age had little choice.
With the countless adaptations of her workincluding the most recent Pride & Prejudice, starring Keira KnightleyJane Austen has proven to be gold for movie and television studios alike. A biopic on the author herself was unavoidable. Even though Austen remained unmarried her whole life, many believed she must have experienced some kind of love to be able to write as she did. Becoming Jane's screenwriters Kevin Hood and Sarah Williams therefore use their imagination, incorporating what little was known of Austen's young adulthood and creating an Austenite world with Jane as its romantic star. Much like Finding Neverland, it's great fun recognizing characters and situations that may have inspired Austen's novels. Adding to the mix is British director Julian Jarrold (Kinky Boots), who frames the English countryside with a loving eye and captures the late 18th century/early 19th century period just as well as any Merchant-Ivory film could have. The only thing Becoming Jane lacks is a wonderfully weepy happy ending in which the dashing gentleman strides across a field to proclaim his love for the heroine. But Jane says it herself in the film: Even if she can't have love and fulfillment, by God she'll make sure all of her novels' heroines have theirs.
Hollywood.com rated this film 3 stars.