Prim & proper

New film brings Jane Austin alive

The Covington News - - NEWTON @ PLAY -

Per­haps stay­ing too close for true orig­i­nal­ity to the style and plot line of 2005’s “Pride and Prej­u­dice,” di­rec­tor Ju­lian Jar­rold nev­er­the­less strikes a chord with his prim and proper take on Jane Austen as a young wo­man try­ing to live up to the heavy ex­pec­ta­tions of Ge­or­gian so­ci­ety

Set in the English coun­try­side at the end of the eigh­teenth cen­tury “Be­com­ing Jane” is both a tale of star-crossed lovers and a splash of cold re­al­ism. Like the hero­ines of her fa­mous nov­els, Jane Austen (Anne Hath­away, “The Devil Wears Prada”) grew up know­ing that her most im­por­tant duty in life was to make a prof­itable match in mar­riage.

“Be­com­ing Jane” de­picts the in­ner strug­gle of young Austen with the wishes of her fam­ily and her own de­sire to marry the pen­ni­less but charm­ing Tom Le­froy (James McAvoy, “The Last King of Scot­land”). A largely fic­tion­al­ized ac­count of the real-life flir­ta­tion be­tween the fa­mous writer and the fu­ture Chief Jus­tice of Ire­land, the film asks and an­swers the ques­tion of what ex­pe­ri­ences/in­flu­ences likely shaped Austen’s life and con­se­quently her writ­ing.

Even with the best script and the best di­rec­tor, if the lead­ing ac­tors don’t have chem­istry to­gether, it’s all for naught. Hap­pily McAvoy and Hath­away have on­screen chem­istry in spades.

Though Amer­i­can ac­tress Hath­away’s Bri­tish ac­cent is not con­sis­tent through­out the film, she more than makes up for it with her earnest and en­er­getic por­trayal of the young Austen. With this latest turn and pre­vi­ous roles in “Broke­back Moun­tain” and “The Devil Wears Prada,” Hath­away has re­ally made name for her­self as one of young Hol­ly­wood’s lead­ing ac­tresses. It’s nice to know that ev­ery once and a while the Dis­ney ma­chine spews out a good one.

Scot­tish ac­tor McAvoy — who has made a name for him­self play­ing flawed yet re­lat­able char­ac­ters — gives a swoon-wor­thy per­for­mance as the rak­ish Tom Le­froy, a young man, like Austen, torn be­tween his own de­sires and his re­spon­si­bil­i­ties to fam­ily. Al­ready her­alded as one of Bri­tain’s shin­ing young stars, Amer­i­can au­di­ences across the pond are only just get­ting their first taste of McAvoy’s con­sid­er­able tal­ent. But with films such as “Be­com­ing Jane” and this fall’s “Atone­ment,” where McAvoy will play the ro­man­tic lead op­po­site Bri­tish beauty Keira Knight­ley, Amer­i­can fe­males (this one in­cluded) no doubt will soon be clam­or­ing for more of McAvoy’s soul­ful blue eyes.

Round­ing out the con­sid­er­ably tal­ented cast, Mag­gie Smith (“Room With a View”) and Julie Wa­ters (“Harry Pot­ter and the Or­der of the Phoenix”) also turn in solid per­for­mances, most no­tably Wa­ters who plays Austen’s much-vexed mother.

Set in the pic­turesque coun­try­side of Austen’s birth­place in Hamp­shire (though the bulk of prin­ci­pal pho­tog­ra­phy for the movie was filmed in south­ern Ire­land), the film has his­tor­i­cal back­drops of ma­jes­tic coun­try es­tates, com­pli­mented by pe­riod cos­tumes and an achingly bit­ter­sweet score com­posed by Adrian John­ston.

The fi­nal prod­uct is a haunt­ing look at the stric­tures of a so­ci­ety which sub­sumed the in­di­vid­ual’s wants in fa­vor of duty to one’s fam­ily.

Grade: B+

Rachel Oswald

Film critic

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