Becoming Jane is an imaginative, romantic tale that captures Jane Austen’s spirit, while playing with the truth. Many of us who delve in Austen-inspired literature write our own “what if” stories, but one must be able to suspend reality and accept the witty, enchanting romance as all good storytelling to truly enjoy this film. (I did. So, I’m not offering that point as a criticism – only as a warning for those unfamiliar with the movie.) This film takes some well known facts from Austen’s life and spins them into an ingenious tale of lost love.
The film opens in the year 1795 and explores the feisty beginnings of an emerging 20-year-old writer, who wishes to live beyond what is expected of her – to actually marry for love. Anne Hathaway portrays Jane Austen, and James McAvoy plays the non-aristocratic Tom Lefroy, whose intellect and arrogance first raises young Jane’s ire and then captivates her heart.
Juliann Jarrold, the film’s director says that “A couple of recent biographies have sort of honed in on this romance with Tom Lefroy, because it’s the older bios that tend to say she [Austen] didn’t have this romance; that somehow, out of her imagination, she was able to portray these amazing characters. Straight after [the alleged romance], she started writing First Impressions – and then Sense and Sensibility, and Northanger Abbey.” (BTW, do you not love the facial similarities between the real Tom Lefroy and James McAvoy in this pictures?)
The film is known for taking the truth and making it a reality. For example, there is some evidence that Ann Radcliffe influenced Jane Austen; however, the film creates a meeting between the two. During this encounter, Radcliffe asks Austen of what she will write.
Radcliffe: Of what do you wish to write?
Jane: The heart.
Radcliffe: Do you know it?
Jane: Not all of it.
Radcliffe: In time you will. If not…well, that situation is what imagination is for.
The film also provides us with plenty of “Jane” talk.
For example, we hear part of the story/poem that Jane created as a tribute to her sister Cassandra’s engagement. “The boundaries of propriety were vigorously assaulted, as was only right, but not quite breached, as was also right. Nevertheless, she was not pleased.”
When others question Jane’s ambitions to become a novelist, she responds,
“Novels are poor insipid things, read by mere women, even, God forbid, written by women.”
But beyond the plot’s twists and turns, Becoming Jane playfully references Austen’s themes, characters, and story lines. So my question is how many such references can you name? Here are some (but not all) that I noted.
From Pride and Prejudice, we find…
Jane’s character resembles a cross between the flirtatious Lydia Bennet, who loves to dance, and Elizabeth Bennet, whose verbal swordplay with Mr. Darcy is enticing. Mr. Warren is the klutzy clergyman whose proposal reminds us all of Mr. Collins. (He also is a bit like Mr. Elton in Emma.)
Lady Gresham (Maggie Smith) is so Lady Catherine De Bourgh. She does not want Wisley to consider Jane as a mate, and I love the scene where she mentions “a little wilderness.”
Lefroy’s character reminds of us the “worthless” activities of George Wickham early on in the film. Like Wickham, Lefroy studies law, but with not much success. Later he is very much Darcy in his judgment of “country” life.
From Sense and Sensibility, we find …
Like Marianne Dashwood, Jane’s decisions are not based on “sense,” but on her “sensibility” (emotional response).
Jane’s situation, if she does not marry Wisley, will be very much like the Dashwood sisters after losing their home.
From Northanger Abbey, we find …
Jane plays cricket, very much as did Catherine Morland.
Jane defends her desire to write novels.
The scene in Uncle Benjamin’s house between Jane and Lefroy reminds one of the staircase scene between Henry Tilney and Catherine Morland.
References to Ann Radcliffe’s (as well as other Gothic novels) are made in the novel. In the film, Jane visits Radcliffe.
From Mansfield Park, we find …
Lady Gresham’s line to Jane about her duty to marry well reminds us of those spoken by Lady Bertram to Fanny Price.
Lady Bertram spends her days with her pug dog, as does Countess Eliza, Jane’s cousin.
From Persuasion, we find …
Although she loves him, Jane breaks an engagement with Lefroy so that he has a chance for a better future. This is similar to what happens between Anne Elliot and Captain Wentworth.
In the novel, Anne meets Wentworth at a concert, where she must translate the opera for her cousin. She recognizes their love still exists, but she can say nothing. “How was the truth to reach him?” In the film, Jane meets Lefory many years after their separation at a concert. He has married and has a daughter named “Jane.”
The trouble is people will take it for the truth and think she drank champagne and met novelists.
That would be true, Nancy, even if the story followed more closely to Austen’s real life. My AP Language students and I saw this together. Afterward, they asked what was real and not real in the film. I made some observations and soon other theatre patrons were asking questions. Only two who watched the film with us left. Everyone else listened to my impromptu “lecture.”
Ever since seeing the film, I’ve wondered if James McAvoy was cast because he looked so much like a dark-haired Tom Lefroy. The similarity struck me when I first saw that miniature. I didn’t find out, though, that a friend of Jane’s had painted that for her. Now, why would she have wanted a portrait of a man that she said she cared not a sixpence for? I feel like something was there whether both hearts or only one was involved. We may never find out.
As her sister Cassandra burned so many of Jane’s letters after Jane’s death, we will never have those insights into her thoughts of the Lefroy. Some people despise the film for what is termed its inaccuracies. Of course those of us who love JAFF are more open to the “what if.” Thanks for joining us, Gianna.