Directed by Julian Jarrold, released on August 10, 2007, it is a great film, but contains little accuracy regarding Jane Austen’s love affair with Tom Lefroy. The film was produced in cooperation with several companies, including Ecosse Films and Blueprint Pictures Limited. Also, it received funding from the Irish Film Board and the UK Film Council Premiere Fund.
Based largely on speculation, Becoming Jane is the story of the untold romance that inspired a young Jane Austen. The character of Jane, played by Anne Hathaway, comes onto the screen as the somewhat troublesome daughter of Rev. Austen and his wife. Jane is portrayed as a bundle of barely suppressed artistic energy from the beginning of the film as she passionately jots down the words of a future novel (First Impressions/Pride and Prejudice) in the opening scene. It is here that we are allowed the first glimpse of Jane’s willfulness and spirit, things that should hardly be found in the daughter of the average country preacher.
The year of 1795 finds the feisty 20-year-old Jane Austen emerging as a writer who dreams of doing what was then nearly inconceivable – marrying for love. Her mother (played by Julie Walters) desperately wishes that Jane would consider marriage to a wealthy young man, one Mr. Wisley, nephew to the very daunting but rich aristocratic Lady Gresham. It’s here that we get previews of characters that would one day grace the pages of Austen’s novels, as Austen’s own mother is reminiscent of the mother found in Pride and Prejudice, and Lady Gresham is an uncanny model for the Lady Catherine De Bourgh. Jane is, however, determined to marry for a reason that far surpasses wealth in her mind, and the mischievous Lefroy becomes the object of her affections.
Though it seems that the two characters are ill-matched at first, sparks soon begin to fly and the flirtation eventually leads to a critical point. Lefroy is entirely dependent upon his uncle, a high-ranking judge. Without the allowance he is provided, Tom would be destitute. Desperately in love, Tom decides to make his case to his very stern and un-romantic uncle who believes that love leads to poverty. When it becomes apparent that the judge will not support the marriage of his nephew to a penniless country girl, Tom seems to let his feelings for Jane wane rather quickly. Jane still believes there must be a way for their love to survive, but she is hastily thrown back into a reality where money remains the crucial factor of a relationship. Brokenhearted, she takes her leave of Mr. Lefroy.
A small amount of time passes before it is discovered that Lefroy has become engaged to a young woman of some wealth. Jane has also become engaged to Mr. Wisley. While Tom is visiting his family in Jane’s neck of the woods, the two meet once again and passions are restored to a degree higher than ever before. Tom declares that he can no longer live a lie and confesses his love for Jane. The couple makes plans for an elopement, knowing full well that the attempt to marry will leave to chance everything that matters – family, friends, and wealth. Running away also means that the couple can never come back to the places they know as home, they will more than likely always be poor, and Jane will undoubtedly find it nearly impossible to write.
It is only after running away with Tom that Jane discovers the allowance he had been given by his uncle supported not only himself, but also his family back in Ireland. Faced with the knowledge that Tom will no longer be able to provide for his mother, father, brothers, and sisters, Jane also acknowledges the difficulty there will be in providing for their own family once children come into the picture. She then decides that eloping is a mistake, and against Tom’s protests she returns back to her family. Elopements in Austen’s time could potentially ruin the reputation of one’s entire family, but Jane’s family welcomes her back with open arms. Wisley, however, is not so willing to be as welcoming. Jane apologizes to him for her actions and he accepts her apology. And though he still believes that he could potentially love her someday, he is prideful enough to want love in return. The two decide to part as friends.
There is a large gap in time as the movie jumps forward several years. We find a much older Jane, along with her brother Henry and his wife enjoying an opera recital. After the opera, a young woman approaches Jane to ask if she is in fact the authoress of Pride and Prejudice. Henry swiftly steps in and says that his sister would prefer to remain anonymous, and it is at this moment that Jane catches sight of her once former love, Tom Lefroy, in the distance. Having seen Jane as well, Tom quickly disappears but Henry follows after him and brings him back to Jane. Accompanied by a young girl, Tom says that he would like to introduce Jane Austen's biggest fan, his daughter. Jane is reservedly polite, but when Tom’s daughter requests that she do a public reading, Jane replies that she would like to remain anonymous and declines. The girl objects to this, but Tom silences her by saying her name, "Jane!" Viewers will be awestruck to learn that Tom has named his daughter Jane, after the one woman he genuinely loved. Somewhat bewildered by this revelation, Jane concedes to do a reading. The movie ends with Jane and Tom looking at one another endearingly.
Becoming Jane is a movie that every Austenite will want to see. Though some may not be in favor of the more current romantic notions found within the film, it can still be enjoyed if one is willing to overlook that fact that little is actually known about the real Jane Austen and her perpetuated romance with Mr. Lefroy. Hathaway is absolutely enchanting as Austen and McAvoy is fantastic in his portrayal of Lefroy. The couple's chemistry makes this a compelling tale, even if it's not a truthful biopic. Those willing to sit back and appreciate the story will also enjoy the occasional phrases and comments that are meant to conjure up recollections of Austen’s novels. Those who are unfortunate enough to be unacquainted with her work will still enjoy the dreamy story-line, along with the film's overall gift to portray Austen's sharp intellect and spirited wit.