As his follow-up to Kinky Boots, Julian Jerrold produced this bit of snarky reflection on Jane Austin’s early days. He was also immensely helped by Kevin Hood and Sarah Williams’s clever adaptation of Austin’s life to show us the budding 16-year-old author and the events that launched her into history. The pair both managed to both mirror her works and riff on the known history.
The flick is led wonderfully by Anne Hathaway (Serenity) and James McAvoy (X-Men: Dark Phoenix) in the Austin and Lefroy roles (actual age of the actors aside). Lefroy truly existed, and there is evidence of their deep affection and end to their story, though the script does take liberties in order to give more power to Austin. The change is forgivable given the purpose and the difficulty in doing a comedy of manners from the late 1700’s in modern times.
The duo are supported by a great cast as well. With Maggie Smith (Sherlock Gnomes), Julie Walters (Wild Rose), James Cromwell (Dante’s Inferno), and, in a small but pivotal role and his final performance, the late, great Ian Richardson pitches in as well.
And then there were other emerging talents such as Anna Maxwell Martin (The Bletchley Circle), Lucy Cohu (Summer of Rockets), and Laurence Fox (Inspector Lewis). Each provided a foil for Hathaway and deepened the tale.
Now, all this effusive outpouring aside, it is still, at its heart Austin. Not my favorite. I loved the verbal banter between Hathaway and McAvoy, which they delivered well. They also made a credible couple. They even managed to agonize in ways that helped make the challenge of the times (romantic attachment vs. duty to family/semi-arranged marriage) at least clearer, if not entirely palpable. But the base issues just never quite grab me as I just find it all so frustrating, even if accurate to the period. This came close to helping me settle into the realities a bit more and feel the story, but there is still a good deal of assumption about what the audience already understood and accepted. But adding to the positives, it is also sumptuously filmed.
If you like Austin, you’ve probably already seen this, so I don’t need to tell you. If you are roped into seeing it, as I was, it honestly isn’t all that bad. It will never make my top 10 movie list, but it might easily make my top 3 Austin/period piece list. So, that’s something.