This Julian Jarrold film starring the appealing Anne Hathaway (Ella Enchanted, The Princess Diaries) takes a look at the early life of Jane Austen at the turn of the 19th Century.
Becoming Jane surrounds the comely American actress with strong British thespians. Hathaway's Jane dwells in Hampshire with a rather vivacious clan, including her parents, acted by James Cromwell and Julie Walters (Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix). They, of course, want her to marry into a family that offers the comfort and security she needs.
Jane happens to be awfully bright for most of the respectable suitors coming her way. That includes the nephew (Laurence Fox) of a local manor lady (the esteemed Maggie Smith, also in the Harry Potter films). Tom Lefroy (James McAvoy) is a rascal, frustrating type for her where unfriendly interaction leads to a mutual attraction. Yet, is their uneasy course something that is right for the two of them?
Kevin Hood and Sarah Williams, the scenarists, portray the situations that inspired the writer of such memorable works as Mansfield Park, Sense & Sensibility, and Pride & Prejudice. But, in working with Jarrold, who made Kinky Boots, it becomes clear that it isn't a smooth fit. Convention drapes heavily over the proceedings which suddenly undoes the mood initially established from the affection to the above referenced novels.
Jarrold sees the lively edge abandoned for the familiar artsy drama that feels all too episodic. Hathaway is steadfast in essaying Jane with intellect and spunk (though the real Ms. Austen might not have spoken in such an overstated manner), while McAvoy (so good opposite Forest Whitaker in The Last King of Scotland) has Tom becomes more of a boring mope. And, Cromwell, Smith and Walters do as well as expected in parts that really seem like extended cameos.
Becoming Jane has polish when it comes to costume, interior designs, and lensing, but never really provides the luster it should. Maybe an anachronistic atrophy holds it at bay, while the progressive nature of Jane caused issues for those of varying social strata around her.