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Becoming Jane

Fact and Fiction

Jane Austen is considered by many to be one of the world's greatest authors. Well, she certainly knew how to write chick lit. That is, the complexities of courtship and affairs of the heart. However, Austen herself never married and had no significant known relationships. How is it then that someone with no such experience could write about love so insightfully? Becoming Jane has its own theory on that matter.

Director Julian Jarrold (Kinky Boots) and writers Kevin Hood and Sarah Williams have crafted an insightful look into what may have been the turning point of Austen's life. Inspired by bits of historical evidence that Austen may have had a brief flirtation when she was twenty and still a budding writer, they came up with the story for Becoming Jane. We are introduced to our spunky, independent-minded heroine in 1795.

Like in many of her novels, Jane (played by Anne Hathaway sporting a passable English accent) has a calculating, fussy mother (Julie Walters) who is trying to marry her off, preferably to the highest bidder. Luckily, there is a beau to be found in Mr. Wisley (Laurence Fox), the dour nephew of the even dourer Lady Gresham (Maggie Smith) who owns the rectory over which Jane's unconventional and indulgent father (James Cromwell) presides. Unfortunately, Jane isn't very keen on Mr. Wisley.

Nonetheless, life is going on as usual in the countryside, but when Henry (Joe Anderson), Jane's older brother, visits things spice up a bit. Shortly after Henry arrives, his good friend Thomas Lefroy (James McAvoy), a debaucherous budding Irish lawyer who lives with his domineering uncle in London, gets shipped out to the country to stay with relatives as punishment for his whoring ways. The relatives are, of course, neighbors and friends to the Austens, and soon Jane finds herself in Lefroy's company, whether she likes it or not.

The two immediately begin to quarrel. In Austen's books, these kinds of exchanges are full of wit, fire and unresolved sexual tension. Here the words come off more like limp leaves of lettuce or overcooked carrots -- all the zest and crunch are boiled out of them; except for one memorable scene in the library which shines. In fact, while this section of Becoming Jane has its charming moments, and one can feel the chemistry just bubbling under the surface, it does not capture how Austen and Lefroy go from barely tolerating one another to falling head over heels in love. There's just something missing and rushed.

But after they do fall, the movie tightens up and moves towards a poignant ending. The direction is satisfying and hits all the necessary highs and lows, including the ubiquitous scenes of the English countryside. Despite its unevenness, Becoming Jane is a sweet, engaging romantic film.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars