To paraphrase the lady in question, it is a truth universally acknowledged that any writer in possession of a literary fortune must be in want of a film that fictionalizes and romanticizes their early life. The Bard of Avon got the treatment with Shakespeare in Love; Hemingway, with In Love in War. In Becoming Jane, Jane Austen gets her turn, with Anne Hathaway (The Princess Diaries, The Devil Wears Prada) playing the lead in a portrait of the artist as a young woman -- and depicting her life as having the same mix of passion and restraint found in her novels. Austen's six novels have long been loved by moviemakers -- there have been more adaptations of Pride and Prejudice than you can shake a petticoat at, and an army of Emmas have made their way across the silver screen. Directed by Julian Jarrold -- whose last film, Kinky Boots, was a different take on the battle between the desires of the heart and the constraints of Englishness -- Becoming Jane is a warm and charming romantic drama. And, considering that the average moviegoer knows of Austen's work far better than they know of her life-- and, if they know her work at all, they know it through filmed adaptations of the novels as opposed to the novels themselves -- the odds are far better that audiences will be charmed, as opposed to offended, by its inventions.
Becoming Jane begins in 1790s Hampshire, cutting between the wet, loamy woods and the Austen household. The Austens are a large and loving family -- but achingly poor. The only asset they have to increase their fortunes, it seems, is Jane's hand in marriage; marrying off their youngest daughter to a man of means would mean salvation for the entire family. Jane would rather marry in the name of love -- or at the least in the name of affection, but, to quote another independent-minded, artistic woman -- Cindy Lauper -- "Money changes everything." Jane is the uneasy focus of the attentions of Mr. Wisely (Laurence Fox), whose aunt Lady Gresham (Maggie Smith) is a lady of means and a rather mean lady. But then, a friend of the family, Mr. Lefroy (James MacAvoy), visits Hampshire. Lefroy's studying law in London; he's a dissipated free-spirit whose personality is as large and unruly as his sideburns. He finds Jane and her writings provincial and quaint, just as she finds his London airs coarse and presumptuous. The two meet, squabble and simmer -- which, in time-honored romantic comedy tradition (a tradition which, let's not forget, Austen herself helped define), means they're nuts about each other.