Review: 'Becoming Jane' not memorable

Jane Austen is the heroine in a story resembling one of her own novels in “Becoming Jane,” a cinematic confection that puts forth that a meaningful romance is what inspired a 20-year-old Austen to write so astutely about loveand propriety. Treated more sharply, this premise might have amounted to a fresh take on the overexposed Austen. But lacking the 18th-century literary icon’s wit and depth, the movie’s merely watchable retread.

Like “Shakespeare in Love” or “Agatha,” the film mixes fact, speculation, and silliness to present a generally fictitious bit of intrigue in the life of a famed author. In 1795 England, Jane Austen (Anne Hathaway) is a budding writer who exasperates her gentry-class parents (Julie Walters, James Cromwell) by refusing to marry for money over love. After rejecting Mr. Wisley (Laurence Fox) — nephew of wealthy snob Lady Gresham (Maggie Smith) — Jane falls for dynamic, penniless law student and rogue Tom Lefroy (James McAvoy), whose arrogance initially incenses her. The two hope to elope, but the head overpowers the heart as family and social mores prevail. Instead, Jane injects the romance into her writing.

Once you get past the stupidity of its notion that it took the influence and love of a man to turn Jane Austen into a literary genius, the film’s basically agreeable. Austen fans should enjoy comparing the people in Jane’s life with the characters in Jane’s novels.

But save for a cricket match in which Jane takes a mighty whack, there’s nothing memorable in this film, which amounts to a lukewarm variation on Austen’s books. Director Julian Jarrold (“Kinky Boots”) opts for the fizzy and the feel-good at the expense of tones that would more powerfully reflect predicaments. Kevin Hood and Sarah Williams’ research-inspired screenplay lacks the keenness that distinguished the above-mentioned bardic fantasy. Hathaway’s Jane and McAvoy’s Tom generate sparks but don’t quite sizzle. The impressive-on-paper cast, in fact, delivers no knockouts in an atmosphere where surface energy eclipses deeper heat.

For superior examples of the Austen mini-genre, rent virtually any “Pride and Prejudice,” Ang Lee’s “Sense and Sensibility,” or Roger Michell’s “Persuasion.”

Becoming Jane **½

Starring Anne Hathaway, James McAvoy, Julie Walters, Maggie Smith

Written by Sarah Williams and Kevin Hood

Directed by Julian Jarrold

Rated PG

Running time: 2 hours

artsentertainmentOther Arts

If you find our journalism valuable and relevant, please consider joining our Examiner membership program.
Find out more at www.sfexaminer.com/join/

Just Posted

The City has struggled to conduct outreach in some neighborhoods as it works to expand Slow Streets — such as this section of Page Street in the Lower Haight — to underserved neighborhoods. <ins>(Jordi Molina/Special to S.F. Examiner)</ins>
SFMTA delays vote on Bayview Slow Streets, approves five others in ‘underserved’ areas

SFMTA struggles to conduct outreach in neighborhoods with lower internet access

Stern Grove Festival organizers are planning to bring back the popular summer concert series — The Isley Brothers show in 2019 is pictured — with limited audience capacity. (Ming Vong/S.F. Examiner)
Indoor shows won’t be flooding SF stages soon but Stern Grove might be back in June

While San Francisco Mayor London Breed announced that live performances may resume… Continue reading

San Francisco Giants pitcher Johnny Cueto  (47) started on Opening Day against the Colorado Rockies at Oracle Park on April 9, 2021. (Photography by Chris Victorio | Special to the S.F. Examiner).
Giants welcome fans back with strong performance by Cueto

By Ethan Kassel Special to S.F. Examiner ORACLE PARK — The first… Continue reading

James Harbor appears in court after he was arrested on charges in the July 4th shooting death of 6-year-old Jace Young on Friday, Jan. 8, 2021. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
Murder case heads to trial over killing of 6-year-old Jace Young

Hearing reveals new details in ‘horrific’ Fourth of July shooting

BART passengers may see more frequent service by this fall. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
BART service increases possible as soon as September

Proposal would double weekday, daytime trains and extend system operating hours

Most Read