NPR logo 'Becoming Jane'

Arts & Life

'Becoming Jane'

Jane i

Letters from author Jane Austen, who never married, hinted at a brief flirtation; Becoming Jane allows Anne Hathaway's Austen a rather more detailed romance. Colm Hogan/Miramax hide caption

toggle caption Colm Hogan/Miramax
Jane

Letters from author Jane Austen, who never married, hinted at a brief flirtation; Becoming Jane allows Anne Hathaway's Austen a rather more detailed romance.

Colm Hogan/Miramax
  • Director: Julian Jarrold
  • Genre: Drama
  • Running Time: 120 minutes

(requires RealPlayer)

A Shakespeare in Love for the Jane Austen set, this romantic charmer invents biographical details for the 18th-century author, suggesting that she drew her plots from her own experience. Anne Hathaway's Jane must choose between a rich but dull land baron, who's asked for her hand, and a dashing but penniless lawyer who hasn't.

If you're like me, and you can't keep Austen's stories straight — Sense and Prejudice? Pride and Sensibility? And which one has Darcy, again? — this tale, which mixes bits and pieces of all her novels, will come as a relief.

The folks surrounding Jane — a wealthy duchess (Maggie Smith), flibbertigibbet mom (Julie Walters), parson dad (James Cromwell), sweet sis (Anna Maxwell Martin) — were all real figures in Austen's life, and director Julian Jarrold keeps their antics lively.

The script amounts only to cut-rate Austen, but with sparkling performances and a Merchant Ivory-pretty design scheme, it's a pleasant-enough summer romp — the cinematic equivalent of a good read for the beach.

Art Isn't Easy, Unless You're Living It on Screen

Art Isn't Easy, Unless You're Living It on Screen

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/12048352/12304853" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
James McAvoy and Anne Hathaway dancing i

Becoming Jane, starring James McAvoy and Anne Hathaway, builds on a real-life flirtation to suggest that the witty romances in Jane Austen's novels may have had their genesis in her own life — though the real Austen never married, and not much is known about her feelings for the lawyer McAvoy portrays. Colm Hogan/Miramax hide caption

toggle caption Colm Hogan/Miramax
James McAvoy and Anne Hathaway dancing

Becoming Jane, starring James McAvoy and Anne Hathaway, builds on a real-life flirtation to suggest that the witty romances in Jane Austen's novels may have had their genesis in her own life — though the real Austen never married, and not much is known about her feelings for the lawyer McAvoy portrays.

Colm Hogan/Miramax

See How 'Jane' Does It

Becoming Jane includes plot points drawn from each of Austen's novels. Watch and see if you can identify which books inspired these scenes:

Romain Duris i

Moliere locates the origins of the French playwright's classic comedies in a set of imagined amorous adventures; the real Moliere went missing for several months in his 20s, which gives director Laurent Tirard room to invent. hide caption

toggle caption
Romain Duris

Moliere locates the origins of the French playwright's classic comedies in a set of imagined amorous adventures; the real Moliere went missing for several months in his 20s, which gives director Laurent Tirard room to invent.

Bob Mondello's Take On ...

When did we decide that creative types weren't really all that creative? That singers who croon about pain must "live" anguished lives, that authors whose histories are a little obscure probably "lived" their plots? That Shakespeare, for instance, was able to write Romeo and Juliet because he was Shakespeare in Love?

Last week, the movie Goya's Ghosts pushed the notion that the darkness of Goya's 17th-century paintings had less to do with varnish yellowing than with the cruelty of the Spanish Inquisition. And in last month's musical biography La Vie en Rose, it was hard to escape the conclusion that that distinctive quaver in Edith Piaf's voice had a lot to do with her crippling arthritis and her broken heart.

This week, along comes Moliere, a sumptuous costume comedy that purports to fill in a gaping hole in our knowledge of the great French playwright. When he was young, he disappeared for a while, so the film decides that he hid his true identity under priestly robes and called himself Tartuffe — who just happens to be the hypocritical title character in the most famous comedy this very Moliere would "someday" write.

Now, while you don't have to know the playwright's plays to enjoy this movie, fans who do will get a bonus as plot points and character names sail by. What's being demonstrated, though, is how clever the screenwriters are, not how clever Moliere was. The suggestion is that France's grand master of comedy was more or less "transcribing" his plays from memory, rather than inventing them.

And next week, the movie Becoming Jane will suggest something similar about Jane Austen, even creating a Mr. Darcy type for her to swoon over. The names are all real, and it's an amusing notion, but it's an invented biography, a riff suggesting that that high-school admonition writers always hear — Write what you know — is all that's at work in creative expression.

This isn't like conventional biographies — Capote, say — that explain an artist's art through biographical details. And it's not like entirely invented biographies — say, Amadeus — that create fictional conflicts around an artist's work. These new films occupy a middle ground, where the screenwriters aren't really inventing anything; they're mixing and matching from the art they so admire. (Think of Finding Neverland and Miss Potter, with their book-based fantasy lives for the creators of Peter Pan and Peter Rabbit.)

And where does this in-between form leave fans of the original work? Well, in the case of Moliere, I suppose it leaves them laughing, and in Becoming Jane it'll leave 'em giddy with romance.

It leaves me wondering which style of biography I'll be watching when Janis Joplin and Coco Chanel come to life on screen next year. I don't suppose it really matters, though it would be nice if the filmmakers end up suggesting that creating art is actually work. The conventional biographies always do that, as do the entirely made-up ones — which sometimes overstate the agony of creation.

These in-between ones, though, tend to make art look easy. And if art were easy, a lot more of us would be artists.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and Terms of Use. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.