Anne Hathaway’s a very becoming Jane

Carly at the Movies column by Carl Larsen

Jane Austen wrote only six novels, but nearly 40 major TV and film versions have been based on them.
For a lady born in the 1700s, she’s always been a hot item in Hollywood, and the latest bodice-ripper, “Becoming Jane,” is currently playing at the Visualite in Staunton. It stars Anne Hathaway, that “Devil Wears Prada” cutie, who incidentally makes a very becoming Jane.

Yep, as you’ve probably heard, the book is (kinda) based on her (sorta) life, which is presented as something right out of one of her own books. In reality, not much is known of her personal life, but according to some obscure writings by one of her nephews, her life was about as exciting as dishwater.

Production values are high and historical facts are shaky in this fictionalized biopic. As a feisty young writer, poor but proud, she lives in the English countryside with Reverend dad (James Cromwell) and mum (Julie Walters) and a younger sister played by the marvelous Anna Maxwell Martin. As in her own novels, this version of Jane faces the same dreadful decision confronting all the other Austenian heroines: Marry for love or marry for money.

A friend of the family gallops up (they do that a lot in Jane Austenland), and, wouldn’tcha knowit, he (played by youthful James McAvoy) and she fall in love. He’s poor, of course, and Jane’s supposed to choose between him and a local clod, a nephew of wealthy la-de-dah Lady Gresham (Maggie Smith in her patented cameo).

Well, you know how these things go. Heaving bosoms, lush outdoor English countryside, chatting walks down overgrown paths, a confrontation with parents – it’s quite a wonderful scene in this film, with mum bitching about having to dig her own potatoes – and the lovers finally entwined. This one doesn’t go quite that way, but it’s an admirable companion piece to the handsome 2005 version of “Pride and Prejudice” starring Kiera Knightly.

The fascinating thing about it is the way director Julian Jerrold and scripters Kevin Hood and Sarah Williams took a few lines from a couple of the real Jane Austen’s letters to her sister and blew them up into a two-hour movie. The family did know a barrister with the same name of our hero, and the real Jane rather fancied him; perhaps even flirted. But naught came of it – certainly nothing like the gigantic, unrequited love portrayed in “Becoming Jane.”

Ahhh, Hollywood! How we love ya!

The brass factuaries are, this is really quite a fetching film if you enjoy those Dickensian and Austenious cleavage flicks that have rolled off the assembly lines for decades. I have no qualms in admitting I like ‘em. They surely waft one off on a cloud of frilly frou-frou for an evening away from today’s troubles.

I have the feeling no one is going to be swayed by anything any critic writes about this movie. Most guys are probably just not going to see it.

(In the Friday matinee I attended, there was exactly one other male in the auditorium, barring a sudden upsurge in cross-dressers, that is.)

Ladies, such as my wife, will bill and coo about it.

‘Twas ever thus.

Carl Larsen is a regular contributor to The Augusta Free Press. Look for his At the Movies column on Mondays.

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