Becoming Jane (2007)
Events from the life of the author Jane Austen inspired this romantic historical drama, which speculates of a romance that may have had a significant impact on her life and work. Twenty-year-old Jane Austen (Anne Hathaway) is the daughter of Rev. Austen (James Cromwell), a minister who looks after a flock in a small rural community in Southern England with his wife (Julie Walters). While her older sister, Cassandra (Anna Maxwell Martin), is engaged to be married, Jane resists her family’s efforts to match her up with Mr. Wisley (Laurence Fox), the wealthy but dull nephew of Lady Gresham (Maggie Smith), a minor member of the British nobility. Jane has the heart of an artist, and hopes to distinguish herself as a musician or a writer, though her parents don’t think much of her prospects. When Jane meets Tom Lefroy (James McAvoy), a young man her own age, she’s intrigued; while he scoffs at her writing style, he clearly sees she has talent, and is eager for her to learn more of the larger world by exposing her to more daring literature and modern pastimes such as boxing. As Tom begins to court Jane, she finds herself increasingly attracted to this poor but keenly intelligent man, though she soon realizes her own ideas about love and marriage are sometimes at odds with the conventions of the society in which she lives.
Rated PG for brief nudity and mild language. (edited for re-rating; was PG-13)
Runtime: 120 min
Company: Ecosse Films
Film Faith Review by Katie Todd
Film Title: Becoming Jane
Director(s): Julian Jerrald
Original release form/venue: Theatrical release in August 2007
Current Availability and formats: DVD, Netflix
Genre: Biography, Drama, Romance
Story elements: This is a biographical film about Jane Austen (Anne Hathaway) before she becomes a popular writer, when she is a young woman and has a romance with a poor young lawyer. Jane is looking for romance, but
her mother wants her to marry a wealthy Mr. Wisley. Mr. Wisley proposes to Jane but she turns him down in search of a romance with Tom LeFroy, a poor “wild” law student in London from Ireland. Throughout the film, Jane is writing her stories and tells her mother that she will eventually “live by my pen,” which is unheard of for a woman to work much less write. Jane and Tom make plans to elope but Jane finds out that his poor family depends on his financial assistance from his wealthy judge uncle who will no longer help him if he’s married to Jane. She returns home and apologizes to Mr. Wisley and attempts to reconcile with him, but he is hurt that she would not give him a chance at loving her. They decide to part as friends, but Mr. Wisley’s wealthy aunt is disgusted by Jane’s behavior and refuses to attend the church services at Jane’s dad’s church. Jane’s family stands by her and so does Mr. Wisley to his aunt’s shock and disapproval. The film fast forwards to Jane as an accomplished writer, flanked by her brother and his wife, cousin Eliza. Jane runs into LeFroy and is introduced to his daughter, Jane, who insists on a public reading from the recluse and private author.
Film Language elements: The film is done as a period piece to the younger years of Jane Austen’s life so; setting, dress, dance and music are all important factors in this film. The story is told through Jane’s point of view as an
omniscient narrator looking back on her life, but also through the lens of her writings. Color is important in the costumes of the characters, as those who wear lighter colors are ones who don’t have to do any work to make a living while those in darker colors have chores and work to do to make ends meet. The editing incorporates a lot of Jane Austen’s published works in the film life of the young author. Many of the camera angles are shot from Jane’s perspective, so the camera is clearly hand-held and a bit less fluid than steady shots.
Audience/Cultural Context elements: This is very much a family-friendly film, as it is a period piece and carries a rating of PG. It is appropriate for all ages, however younger children will have some difficulty understanding the language used in the film, especially the portions of Jane Austen’s writings that appear frequently throughout. The intended audience appears to be Jane Austen fans as well as historians. The film does a good job of portraying Jane Austen’s life and work without being too directed toward just female audiences. Given the period nature of the film, the social and economic context surrounding the film is that of the time – women were expected to participate in arranged, financial agreements for marriage in order to better the status of their family life. While there is not much shown about “poverty” it is discussed, and a class-based society is quite evident in the film.
Theology is found: While Mr. Austen is a preacher and some scenes take place in church, theology is mostly brought to the film by the viewer. The theology portrayed in the film is mostly societal based about women’s behaviors and cultural expectations.
Theological themes for conversation: Family & life in community; Sin, Pride & broken humanity; Romantic love v. agape love
Suggested type of conversation: This film should be used as an illustration or example of the theological theme of belonging to a family and life in community. It can be used either in part or in whole.
Recommended Ways to view and engage the film: If the film is not used in whole, I would use the final few scenes where Jane is rejected by one member of society but welcomed back openly into the arms of her own family. Other family-based scenes are the care provided Cassandra after her fiancé’s death, and also Jane’s breaking off of the elopement with Tom because his family relies so heavily on his financial support. Specific chapters/scenes for viewing include:
Scene 11 – News from Abroad
Scene 13 – Family Obligation
Scene 14 – She Has a Family
Scene 15 – Old Friend
Concluding or summary remarks: Due to the reliance of this film upon the works of author Jane Austen, some of the language used is harder to grasp for younger viewers. Some “translations” may need to be provided. Also, it would be really unique if in discussions of the film, the teacher was able to provide examples from Austen’s published works for the viewers to see and read in discussion with the film.