A consistently intelligent (or at least bright), coherently constructed comedy that is on occasion a rather pointed critique of the American education system in the…
Jane Austen wrote six of the most beloved novels in the English language, we are informed at the end of "Becoming Jane," and so she did. The key word is "beloved." Her admirers do not analyze her books so much as they just plain love them to pieces. When I was very sick last year there was a time when I lost all interest in reading. When I began to feel a little better, perhaps strong enough to pick up a book, it was Austen's Persuasion. What else? And I entered again the world of that firm, fine intelligence, finding the humors and ironies of human existence in quiet domestic circles two centuries ago.
"Becoming Jane" is a movie every Janeite will want to see, although many will not approve of it. The Jane Austen in the film owes a great deal more to modern romantic fancies than to what we know about the real Jane Austen, and if Austen had been as robust and tall in those days (circa 1795) as Anne Hathaway, the 5-foot-8-inch actress who plays her, she would have been considered an Amazon. Studying the only portrait drawn during her life, by her sister Cassandra, I think Austen looks more like Winona Ryder. But no matter. Patton was no George C. Scott.
My quarrel involves what this film thinks Jane is 'becoming': A woman, or a novelist? The action centers on a passionate romance between Jane at about 20 and a handsome, penniless young lawyer named Tom Lefroy (James McAvoy). What intimacies or decisions they arrive at, I will leave for you to discover, but surely few of Jane's contemporaries would have allowed themselves to be so bold. Jane, in any event, discovers love. And in the movie's sly construction, she also discovers a great deal of the plot of Pride and Prejudice, beginning with Mr. Lefroy as the original for Mr. Darcy. She even happily chances on what will become the novel's opening words: "It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife."
Austen is already an author as the movie opens, although she will not for many years be a published one. We see her sitting at a beautiful desk in a beautiful chair, writing with a beautiful quill pen in a stylish script and gazing out at a beautiful pastoral view, like an illustration for a Regency edition of the Levenger catalog.