Review by MJRyan
I agreed to review Becoming Jane for AustenBlog with a bit of trepidation. Not only would I be required to give some sort of informed opinion about picture resolution and sound but I’d also have to give my opinion on a movie that has been the subject of much debate over the past year and a half. What if I actually liked the movie? Would I lose the smidgen of Austen street cred I’ve obtained by submitting occasional reviews of Austen paraliterature? Would I be smacked over the head with The Cluebat? If I hated the movie, would I be dismissed as one who is impossible to be please or who places our Jane – preferably gilded in gold, cradling Pride and Prejudice in one hand and raising her pen of justice against loveless marriages in the other – on the highest pedestal in a museum? In the end, the lure of a free DVD was stronger than my fear of wading in to these perilous waters.
The movie is about what I expected. Letters were written. Balls were attended. Liberties were taken. With the story, that is. Jane’s virtue is intact at the conclusion of this fictionalized version of her formative years. I should say that her virtue is mostly intact. I might not ever forgive the powers that be for the Lydia Bennet allusion at the end. After my initial indignant screening, I went to the JASNA web-page to brush up on what is known about Jane Austen’s interaction with Tom Lefroy. As it turns out, very little. What is known wouldn’t make a very interesting movie.
Done with my hand flailing and determined to not roll my eyes once or think, “Jane would not do that”, I watched the movie a second time. Oh, the bliss of a well-made period drama. Pretty people in pretty clothes saying pretty things while dancing! And, all of the men dance! (I believe that I would suffer the indignities of being a woman in the 18th century just to have a husband willing to dance.) In all seriousness, the story, while a completely fictionalized version of Austen’s life, is able to illustrate the time in which Austen lived and the challenges faced by a woman of her means. It could be argued that the best way to learn of the challenges Austen faced is to read her novels, but there is something to be said for watching Austen herself meet these misfortunes, no matter how sensationalized the story or how loose the characterization is.
The star-studded cast all give stellar performances with Anna Maxwell Martin doing the most with her limited screen time. The story moves at a sharp clip, and while I thought there were a few false endings, the final denouement seems an appropriate closure. The cinematography was beautiful; the picture, sharp and stunning. The sound left something to be desired. I had to use subtitles to understand a few exchanges in crowded scenes and when the music overshadowed the dialog.
Extras: The extras offered on the DVD were uninspired: deleted scenes, a short making of doc, audio commentary from the director, producer and screenwriter and a pop-up video inspired facts and footnotes.
The title of the making of documentary, Discovering the Real Jane Austen, seems a bit of a misnomer since the Jane Austen they discussed was, in fact, the same one I know. While there was talk in the doc and the commentary about ‘making Jane Austen flesh and blood,’ the only indication that they succeeded was by putting her character on screen. No groundbreaking information or long lost letters were provided to validate the version of events depicted on film. The most interesting aspect of the doc was the interviews with the actors and behind the scenes footage.
The audio commentary by Director Julian Jerrold, Writer Kevin Hood and Producer Robert Bernstein was hit and miss. Interesting information about the creative process, debates about scenes to include and omit, and tidbits about the actors was interspersed with historical information about Austen. I’ll leave the judgment on how accurate the information is to someone schooled in the minutia of Jane Austen. But, even I, in my relative ignorance, found the validity of a few of their comments questionable. However, the sincerity and admiration these three men have for Jane Austen is apparent, not only in the commentary but also in the movie.
Being a product of the MTV generation, a fan of Pop Up Video and a lover of trivia, I was most looking forward to the pop-up facts. My joy at watching the movie with this feature was tempered by the fact that it was the fourth viewing of the movie in three days. The typos and misspellings didn’t help (it’s Pemberley). Despite the latter quibbles, the pop-up feature was fun and informative. For a viewer new to Jane Austen it would hopefully be a jumping off point for more research into her life and the Regency period.
Finally, the deleted scenes. They were deleted for a reason. If you typically watch them with your DVDs then you’ll enjoy them. It just seems like Bonus Feature filler to me. Personally, I’d rather have bloopers.
Grade: As a true representation of events in Austen’s life: F; as an engaging period drama with a compelling story and interesting, multilayered characters: B+; Extras: C