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Becoming Jane (2007)

Becoming Jane. Feature film. (2007, 120 mins) IMDB

...A period piece with lots of costumes and horses and estates and people falling in and out of love....

W

e know Jane Austen from her novels and the many films based on them. In this film we catch a glimpse of the woman before she became an author, a glimpse of her family and a brief lover affair. It's this love affair that forms the arc of the story.

It's impossible to know what happened and didn't happen, what was said and what wasn't, even with her letters as a source, but this film wants us to believe we're witnessing the early adulthood of Jane Austen some two hundred years ago. Fine.

Jane lives in the country with her parents and siblings. The father is a local minister. It's a meagre existence but not uncomfortable.

Jane is of an age where young women get married. They marry because there isn't anything else for them to do. The nephew of someone who is wealthy wants to marry her, but she isn't the least bit interested in him, let alone in love with him. She won't marry him. She won't marry even if it's convenient or financially rewarding. She wants to marry for love. It seems such an idyllic dream.

I should point out the film starts not with Jane, but with her love interest--Mr. LeFroy. Despite the name, he's from Ireland. Lives in London under the surveillance of his rich uncle, a judge. The judge is training him to be a lawyer, gives him money to live on which he uses to drink and have sex with whatever woman he can find. Yes, he's a cad. Given his poor behaviour, his uncle forces him to go into the country to spend time with relatives and that's where he meets Jane.

The film isn't a happy love story because while they meet, fall in love, they can never be together. Jane's parent pressure her to marry Mr. Wimp because he has money and she doesn't. LeFroy's uncle will cut him off if he marries Jane. Our star-crossed lovers are doomed to be apart.

Act II is about them meeting and falling in love and growing further together and discovering they can't get married. It's all based on the societal norms of the times--so much different from today. For example, the only time when they can be alone together to talk is when they dance. Anything else would ruin her reputation.

I often wonder what it would be like to take someone like myself and drop him or her into that society. A comedy of errors or quick death? I'm not sure. It wouldn't be easy. And I don't mean some novel or film, I mean for real, but it can't happen, regardless of what Einstein says about time.

There's a scene where LeFroy comes back to get Jane even though they both know it can't work. He's going to take her away to Scotland, to elope, to make whatever they can from their love. She agrees and leaves. As they travel a short distance on a horse drawn carriage, it's clear it'll never work. They part.

He goes back to London to finish his studies and becomes a lawyer. She goes back to her parents house to write and write.

Flashforward a number of years. Many years. Jane never married but she wrote many popular novels. LeFroy did marry, had children including his first daughter named Jane. We learn this because they meet at a social gathering.

There's no question this film has been structured to fit the needs of a film, a narrative, a story in lieu of what may or may not have happened in her life. I'm sure many aspects of their relationship didn't make it into the film and others were embellished. That's neither good or bad, it's simply the nature of filmmaking.

The implication from the story and hence the title of the film is Jane learnt from these experiences and it's reflected in her novels. That could very well have happened. In fact, it's quite likely.

Posted 2009/02/11 at 20h37ET in Movie Commentary.

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