Reviewer: Charity Bishop
For many years, Jane Austen has amused and entertained audiences around the world with her charming romances about dashing heroes, spunky heroines, and the occasional villain. But the story of her life is even more interesting, at least from the perspective of filmmakers, as this production attempts to cash in on the Austen phenomenon, and doesn't do a bad job of it either, all things considered.
There is always a story rummaging about in her head, but Jane (Anne Hathaway) has quite a lot to keep her occupied in-between scribbling. She lives a quiet life in the country, content to remain at home and hopeful of one day making her own living through her novels. Her elder sister Cassandra (Anna Maxwell Martin) is due to be married in a year, once her husband-to-be returns from an expedition to India, and her parents hope that Jane too will make a fine match. A local young man is interested but far too dull and provincial for her tastes, despite the superiority of his wealthy aunt (Maggie Smith). If Jane marries, she vows, she will marry for love and nothing less. For the time being, that hope is beyond her reach... and then Tom Lefroy (James McAvoy) enters her world.
Less than serious about a career in the law, and with a notorious relationship with the ladies, Tom does the one thing he shouldn't have upon meeting Miss Austen: he insults something she has written. Miserable in the country and bored with what little it has to offer him, he finds himself enchanted by the spunk and complexities of Jane, who is equally drawn to him despite the scandalous books he encourages her to read, and his belief that she cannot hold her own in the writing world until she has more experience in life. But their growing interest for one another comes with a high price that neither of them may be able to pay. To be perfectly honest, the first bit was rubbish in the sense that it was not grabbing or captivating. Tom's misspent hours boxing and cavorting in whorehouses did not leave me with a good impression of his moral character, and the script prevailed too much upon Pride & Prejudice before successfully breaking off and forming its own unique story.
From that moment on, when it stopped being a loose translation of her most famous book, it turned into a brilliant film. There are flaws, but they are not to be found in the casting. Hathaway is quite a good young actress, and McAvoy can be quite charming in a romantic lead if given half the chance. The costumes were also lovely, although it puzzled me that the designer did not stick to one particular style. There were high waists and low waists, full skirts and slender skirts, a hodge-podge of several different eras. One thing I disliked about the film was its flippancy in certain areas. I'm surprised at its low rating considering there's a brief scene of backside nudity when two of the men go skinny dipping (and the girls happen to see them). It felt horribly out of place (no country or town gentleman of the time would have dared dream of such a thing, particularly knowing ladies are in the area) and was just plain revolting. There's also an early shot of a man ducking under the covers to do something to his wife. We don't know what, but it's clear she doesn't mind. An unmarried couple go into the same set of room late at night and close the door.
We hear Jane reading portions of Tom Jones aloud, in which some bawdiness is present. Tom is quite comfortable with a group of prostitutes. These aspects are peculiar when you consider the restraint shown in Jane's novels, cast with reflection upon her life. By most accounts, she would consider Tom a rake just as she wrote Willoughby or Mr. Wickham, although he as certain elements that inspired Mr. Darcy as well. I enjoyed it but did not find it particularly memorable. It's one of those films that I may visit from time to time but that will never skyrocket to the top of my current favorites list, but still for young Austen enthusiasts, it's worth it.