I just finished watching Becoming Jane, and while I was glad to have done so, I found parts of the story hollow.
In some parts they teased us with a Pride and Prejudice Darcy/Bennett like budding romance between Jane Austen (Anne Hatheway) and the dashing Tom Lefroy (James McAvoy). When the characters finally surrender to their affections, the story becomes mired in heartbreak and heavy as a leaden ball. There is joy in the story, to be sure, but it is overcome with a sense of tragedy, of a relationship which never came to fruition. (Spoilers: Lefroy and Austen never marry, despite their best efforts.)
And therein lies the problem. Jane Austen lived to be forty-one, before falling ill one day and never full recovering. But surely, between her youthful acquaintance with Lefroy and her latter years, she would have had joy in her life. She was a wildly successful author for her time, and had close relations with her family. Amongst many other happy things. Instead the film depicts the older Jane Austen as this austere woman, saddened by some long ago love.
The film-makers do Austen wrong in this. There were many ways to be a happy woman, and not all of them involved marriage, though it would have been difficult simply because of familial and social expectations. But the film-makers seem to forget that women did forge their own ways without men. Austen had a productive and probably happy life, regardless of her not marrying. This oversight helps mire the film in sorrow, and renders Austen into a one dimensional character, concerned mostly with Lefroy. I cannot count how many conversations focused on Lefroy, Lefroy, Lefroy . . . wasn’t the title of this film Becoming Jane?
Focusing so exhaustively on Lefroy diminishes the relationships Austen has with other characters, namely the female characters. I don’t think there was a single conversation between women in the film which was not about a man in some way, and 90 percent of those conversations were about Lefroy. I believe the film failed the Bechdel Test (Google it!) and as someone who enjoys Austen, both originals and adaptations, for the companionship women share between them, this vexes me. This is a poor representation of Jane Austen’s life if it can’t pass the Bechdel Test.
If the film had given light and life to other characters (ie, screen time), if it had shown women in each other’s company (no talk of a man in sight!), if it had given Austen more of a three dimensional character (at bit like Lefroy!) this film could have been stunning. Instead it it a betrayal of Austen’s life and work in some ways, and leaves you empty.
I understand it is supposed to have that effect, I just think the story could have been more, and more than focused on Lefroy to the point the story suffers.
I will, however, say this: I kind of don’t blame the film-makers for focusing so much on Lefroy. McAvoy is a charming, handsome man, and looks damn fine in those tailcoats of his. He is also a very good actor, of course. I think the entire cast was good, in fact, it was only the way the story was handled which “rubbed me wrong”.