Becoming Jane

Becoming Jane (2007)
Buena Vista Home Entertainment
Cast: Anne Hathaway, James McAvoy, Julie Walters
Extras: Audio Commentary, Featurette, Deleted Scenes, Pop-Up Facts

Over the last few years Jane Austen's life and very respected library of works have received a lot of attention in cinema. We have "Pride and Prejudice", "The Hours", "Miss Potter" and many others, in fact I recently reviewed the excellent "Jane Austen Book Club" on Blu-ray, and now we have a film that is actually loosely based on her life starring Anne Hathaway as the writer Jane Austen. While I've never read any of her books, I guess I've learned a little about her widely regarded literary creations and much beloved characters that so many avid readers seem to obsess over.

The film is directed by Julian Jarrold, who also brought us "Kinky Boots" and "Anonymous Rex" and it takes place in rural England in the year 1795, before Jane Austen became widely known as an author. Her father, Reverend Austen (James Cromwell) and mother (Julie Walters) have taken it upon themselves to search for a wealthy, well appointed husband, much like they did with her older sister Cassandra (Anna Maxwell Martin). They simply want more for their daughters because they are a family of somewhat limited means. This was the custom for many families back then to make sure their daughter's future was stable and to protect the family name.

But 'life is what happens when you're busy making other plans', as John Lennon once observed, and our young writer meets a young man named Tom Lefroy (James McAvoy), who is a fancy city lawyer sent to live with his relatives in the countryside as punishment for partying a little too hard a little too often. At first he is ignorant of and bored by Ms. Austen, but after many social gatherings he comes to admire the fact that she is a writer, although the two argue about anything and everything every time they come into contact. He brings to her attention a whole world she hardly knew existed, a world of books she had never before dared to read and the manly sport of boxing. Of course, he is arrogant and a womanizer (not to mention a hard drinking Irishman) and his social standing isn't what her parents would ever accept, especially since they already hold in their hopes a union for her with the nephew of Lady Gresham (Maggie Smith), whose social standing is well respected and her wealth is widely known, not to mention she is a minor member of British Royalty. There's only one problem, her nephew Mr. Wisley (Lawrence Fox) certainly doesn't come close to matching the intellect and wit and sense of adventure that Tom provides, and he begins actively pursuing her affections to the dismay of his aunt. Young Jane is less than thrilled with the prospect of becoming Mr. Wisley's wife, to say the least, and she begins a downward spiral of self-obsessed soul examining.

As time goes on, our young Jane Austen is put through much mental anguish when she is forced to make a seemingly impossible decision, marry without affection a man who can provide for her or marry for love and lose everything, including financial well being, friends and family by taking the ultimate gamble and beginning a life anew with our young anti-hero Tom. As it turns out, or at least the way the film presents it, Jane Austen's idea of marriage and love were slightly ahead of their time, and decidedly unconventional. Tom Lefroy becomes her eventual inspiration for one of her most famous books 'Pride and Prejudice'. What is a young woman supposed to do when the man she is interested in is off limits according to social rules and both of their families' objections?

While the film will definitely appeal to fans of Jane Austen, not to mention people who love historical romance, I found it less than enlightening, Anne Hathaway's performance was less than stellar, and the film simply doesn't get very involved in a subject that certainly deserves more attention to detail. It's Jane Austen light. So, I think it is best left to the hardcore fans of the writer, who I'm sure will agree that the film could have certainly been more broad in scope and a little less harmless, especially when we are dealing with one of the largest icons of modern feminism in history, not to mention how truly rebellious the real Jane Austen was. This film simply skims over a brief period of her life and left me wanting something else entirely and with a different actress and director.

As for the transfer itself it looks very nice on Blu-ray, framed with an aspect ratio of 2.35:1 the picture is really quite sharp, as I expected this being a new release. I really enjoy watching historical dramas in high definition because you can see all of the intricate details of the costumes, not to mention the antique objects and furniture in the background. The colors are very well recreated and the skin tones seem natural. The natural lighting is also very nicely conveyed. All in all a very nice looking film, although it doesn't quite rise to a level of the best I've seen, still a very detailed picture.

The audio also comes across very crisply, with a 5.1 uncompressed track that has quite a wide sound field for such a dialogue heavy film, the music comes across very clearly and I was actually surprised at how good this film actually sounds, they really went out of their way in the sound department and you should be impressed. There is actually quite a bit of surround usage, though mainly it is atmospheric.

As for the special features are in standard definition, which is a disappointment. They include thirteen 'Deleted Scenes' which perhaps could have stayed in the film to flesh out some details. We also have a featurette called 'Discovering The Real Jane Austen' which runs about fifteen minutes and is actually fairly interesting because it points out all of the subtle references from all of the Jane Austen works that I would never get because I've never read any of her works. It also includes the standard interviews with the cast and crew. The commentary by Julian Jarrold, writer Kevin Hood and producer Robert Bernstein is quite lively and it is very obvious that the filmmakers do have a passion for all things Austen. It also has other details that will please the avid Jane Austen reader. Also for the perceptive fan and armchair historian we have a 'Pop Up Facts And Footnotes' option that actually makes the film more interesting. We have a few high definition trailers also.

Perhaps I was looking for a broader examination of Jane Austen's life and work and something a little less vague and fluffy, but I was ultimately disappointed with this film. But I'm sure Jane Austen fans will devour it happily and wait for the next film to come their way. Hopefully something a little more detailed and epic in nature and with better performances. Still, the image is crystal clear and with audio to match, fans of the film won't have a hard time picking this one up, as it clearly rises above its standard definition counterpart. If you are a fan of the film or a Jane Austen connoisseur, then this Blu-ray will certainly meet your expectations in the technical department but perhaps you shouldn't expect a complete and definitive portrait of Jane Austen with this film, that film has yet to be made.