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With: Anne Hathaway, James McAvoy, Julie Walters, James Cromwell, Maggie Smith, Joe Anderson, Lucy Cohu, Laurence Fox, Ian Richardson, Anna Maxwell Martin, Leo Bill, Jessica Ashworth, Eleanor Methven, Michael James Ford, Tom Vaughan-Lawlor, Elaine Murphy
Written by: Kevin Hood, Sarah Williams
Directed by: Julian Jarrold
MPAA Rating: PG for brief nudity and mild language
Running Time: 120
Date: 03/02/2007

Becoming Jane (2007)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Pride and Sensibility

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Apparently having run out of Jane Austen novels to film, the writers Kevin Hood and Sarah Williams and director Julian Jarrold have instead opted for this biographical fiction, based on the idea that Ms. Austen (Anne Hathaway) must have experienced some kind of passionate, tragic romance early in her life upon which to build her work. It's a wonderful idea, and it works beautifully.

In most modern film romances, the couples are usually made up of one somewhat "uptight" partner and one somewhat "carefree" partner, who then "fix" each other. But in Becoming Jane, the partners are evenly matched, fiercely intelligent, independent and passionate. Born to a country reverend, the witty, outspoken Jane finds herself reluctantly swept away by a dashing rogue from London, Tom Lefroy (James McAvoy). Tom drinks, fights, covets whores and works as a lawyer, but depends on the finances of his uncle. The obligatory third party, Mr. Wisley (Laurence Fox), completes the love triangle and offers affectionless stability as opposed to Mr. Lefroy's penniless adoration. However, Mr. Wisley actually comes across as an earnest and decent fellow as opposed to the usual comical cuckold that occupies this role.

Writers Hood and Williams conjure up a plot worthy of Ms. Austen herself, using Austen's real-life brothers and sisters for scandalous and tragic romantic subplots. And director Jarrold fleshes out the tales with impeccable pacing and a few breathtaking touches; in one sequence, the three main players dance at a ball, and without a word, each conveys his or her true feelings for one another before the dance is through. In another, a goodnight kiss is suddenly interrupted, and our collective breath actually catches in our collective throats. The cast is uniformly superb, notably Ms. Hathaway, who is usually geared for comic roles, as well as Maggie Smith as Mr. Wisley's wealthy aunt, who can't understand the impudent youth of today and fires off comically nasty barbs at their expense. My major complaint is that director Jarrold, who previously made the wretched Kinky Boots, occasionally resorts to junky, hand-held photography to emphasize the story's more chaotic moments, and it sticks out of his otherwise patient, accomplished period piece like the proverbial sore thumb.

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