January 12, 2008 -- This is a rather dull exercise in deconstructing Jane Austen's life (and a fictionalized deconstruction at that) to provide a life experience basis for her novels. This film makes a mighty attempt, using lush costumes, sets, fine actors and English and Irish locations, to equal Jane Austen at her own game. It fails miserably. Jane Austen would never write anything as pointless and depressing as this screenplay. The movie seems to advance the argument that Jane Austen wrote some happy endings into her novels because of the disappointments in her own life. This, of course assumes that Jane actually needed a man to complete her as a person and that she couldn't be happy without a man. It also argues she couldn't get by without a man's money.
These are all familiar themes to those familiar with Jane Austen, or with the plethora of Merchant-Ivory films about this era of British history, particularly the obsession with marrying into money. In those days, land and wealth belonged to the few. The notion of actually earning one's own money seemed to be foreign, especially for women. The notion that an author can only write effectively from experience is another theme of the film, even though the evidence is extremely slight that this is true in the case of Jane Austen. I'm not convinced that Jane Austen is so much writing from experience as she is writing about the way life ought to be if it was more just.
Anne Hathaway (“The Devil Wears Prada”) stars as Jane Austen. She and her lover, Tom Lefroy (James McAvoy of “The Last King of Scotland”) fall in love, but are frustrated by the influence of powerful people in their lives that control the fortunes of their two respective families. The ending of the film wobbles back and forth between romanticism and practicality. Both Jane and Tom Lefroy change their minds multiple times about what to do about their romance. This dithering is taken to extreme lengths in an attempt to provide some dramatic tension. This might work for those not too familiar with Jane Austen's life.
I wasn't happy with the outcome and I don't think Jane Austen would be happy with it either. It is a long, meandering, somewhat boring story without a satisfactory conclusion. Austen was a very moral person, better than the person portrayed in the movie. Austen would not approve of the way her character acts in the movie. The acting, however, is quite good, as are the production values, including a sumptuous score by Adrian Johnston, beautiful cinematography, beautiful costumes, sets, locations and so forth. This is a film that's all dressed up with no place to go. It rates a C.
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