Theres a strange déj? vu quality about this fictionalized biography of Jane Austen in that, if youre familiar with Pride and Prejudice, youve seen the same story better done – before.
Set in late 18th century England, its all about marrying off a rebellious young woman in an era of obedience and docility. That girl needs a husband, declares her mother (Julie Walters) at the outset. But her father, Rev. Austen (James Cromwell), realizes that finding a suitable (i.e.: wealthy) one wont be easy. After all, Janes already rejected Mr. Wisley (Laurence Fox), the nephew of Lady Gresham (Maggie Smith).
His fortune will not buy me, Jane declares stubbornly to which her mother observes, Affection is desirable but money is absolutely indispensable!
Instead, Janes smitten by a charming but penniless Irish lawyer-in-training Tom Lefroy (James McAvoy), whose penchant for bare-knuckle boxing appalls his uncle and benefactor (Ian Richardson).
Adapted as a vapid melodrama without neither proper chronology nor a shred of originality or Austen wit – by Sarah Williams and Kevin Hood from Jon Spences biography, distractingly dimly photographed in Ireland by Eigil Bryld and directed at a plodding, pedestrian pace by Julian Jarrold (Kinky Boots), its very, very literary and quite tedious. But thats not the fault of Anne Hathaway (The Princess Diaries, The Devil Wears Prada), who acquits herself admirably with veteran thespians Maggie Smith, Julie Walters, James Cromwell and Ian Richardson – in his last screen role.
Judging by this and Renee Zellwegers lackluster Miss Potter, about writer Beatrix Potter, the lives of these lady writers in Regency society fare far better on paper. On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, Becoming Jane is a bland 5. Its a stilted, stuffy costume drama masquerading as a chick flick.