Did I like it or hate it? Well, I didn’t hate it. Which surprised me, because I expected to. I’d heard all sorts of bad things about it—but the funny thing is, when I hear all sorts of bad things about something and then actually end up watching it, it’s easier for me to notice the good points, because I'm already prepared for the bad ones. That’s the way it was when I saw the 2011 version of Jane Eyre, too.
But did I really ‘like’ it? Well… I liked some of it. I liked it, but… hmm, there would be a lot of “buts.”
I liked it, but…
…it just wasn’t Jane Austen. Maybe this should go last, because it’s the most important fault, but I’m going to put it first. Just because.
This encompasses a lot. As you all, I am sure, know, my loyalty to dear Jane Austen is unswerving. When the movie-makers get her wrong… that just won’t do. In some respects she was actually all right. The sort of dry sense of humor she had was tolerably well done, I think. However. The sparkle was missing. The cheerful sort of way that I know she was from reading her works, her letters, and what others said about her, was absent. Now, I don’t think Jane Austen was perfect. No, indeed, I think she had many faults just like we all do. But the way they tried to make her real… was misrepresenting. The flirting was way overdone and absolutely ridiculous. She joked about flirting in her early letters to Cassandra, but that was when she was 20, not 40. I am sure she had much more prudence than that. She acted in such a way as the characters she ridiculed in her novels did. (I think I'm stealing that point of view from Miss Elizabeth, but it was a good thought.) Granted, she was mostly joking, but… still.
As I said, her sparkle was missing, as was her good humor. She seemed grouchy and scowlish a lot. Now, I know that towards the end this was probably owing a lot to her being ill, but when you read the letters she wrote during her illness, and what others said about her, she had rather surprised everyone by how she tried to act cheerful in spite of it.
In general, I’d say the good qualities Jane Austen had were removed or misrepresented in this movie. And I mean the good qualities of her nature and character, not her mind. Because she was clever and witty enough. Just, as I said, not quite cheerful enough in her wittiness.
Also, she was sort of too… melodramatic. Or something. And not the kind of melodramatic I like.
…the seaside gentleman was missing. One of my favorite things in Jane Austen's real-life story is that mystery about the man she supposedly met by the sea, whom Cassandra was said to have told one of their nieces later on was the only man Jane every truly loved. The mystery and romance of that appeals to me, and I think it a good challenge for every bio-fic writer to acknowledge this possibility. (Early on in the movie, she says to Fanny that she loved and lost… but she never explained what that was supposed to mean.) I can sort of understand why they wouldn’t, because it’s not a proven fact from her life, but obviously they weren’t trying to avoid that, as…
…they made up romances for Jane. There was this man, a Rev. Bridges, who was supposed to have proposed to her in the past, but she refused him. And I am not talking about Harris Bigg-Wither. He was there, too, but this is another guy. And he’s still around later on, but he’s married, and seems to still be interested in Jane (highly inappropriate!). I don’t approve. Also, she is sort of interested in a this young doctor during the story. Now, she pretends to be interested in a couple of other gentlemen too, and that’s just her flirting nonsense. Which annoys me, as I said. But she seemed to be genuinely interested in this one, but then finds out that he isn’t really interested in her, and feels rather jealous because he seems slightly taken with her 20-year-old niece, Fanny Knight.
To read a guest post I did on Miss Dashwood’s blog about Jane Austen’s real-life romances, click here.
…Cassandra Austen wasn’t right. She just… wasn’t. Also, in this movie, they have Cassandra help Jane decide to break her engagement with Harris (which they also made up, to the best of my knowledge), and near the end she says, weepingly, “I didn’t do it for you… I'm so ashamed!” and what was that supposed to mean? It was unexplained. And I don’t like loose ends. The speech she makes to Fanny at the end is quite good, but that’s only because it’s what she wrote in a letter in real life. It’s so touching and makes me cry every time. “She was the sun of my life, the gilder of every pleasure, the soother of every sorrow; I had not a thought concealed from her, and it is as if I have lost a part of myself.” *sniff*
…it had some things I found slightly indecent. There were a few things in there that made me think “um, was that really necessary?” or “if they say something else like that, I’m turning this off.” (One might consider me to be very picky, though.) If you want me to explain better, let me know.
…there was too much wine-drinking going on. Need I say more?
…Mrs. Austen was too… annoying. From what I know of the real Mrs. Austen, she wasn’t exactly the nicest or wisest character, but in this movie they just make her too mean and… eehh.
So. After all that, you might be wondering… what did I like about it? What about it made me not exactly dislike it?
Well, despite all the inaccuracies, it is supposed to be about Jane Austen, and it’s just too much fun to have all those beloved names spoken, and actually hearing the characters talk about Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility; to hear people quote Mansfield Park, and Jane reading Persuasion aloud to Mrs. Austen and Cassandra in the kitchen; these things just can’t be in the Jane Austen novel adaptations, and I found it delightful. And of course it includes some tidbits of things that really did happen in Jane Austen’s life; like being ‘invited’ to dedicate Emma to the Prince Regent.
I also thought the focus of Jane’s relationship with her niece Fanny Knight was interesting; Jane Austen really did have a special friendship with Fanny, and though they made everything a bit silly at times, I still found most of it enjoyable. Fanny sometimes acted like an immature, spoiled brat, but when she didn't act like that I rather liked her. "You said yes because he was rich and no because you didn't love him? That's so romantic!" (Speaking of Harris Bigg. And I completely agree.)
Also, the music. When I like the soundtrack to something, the movie usually goes up a couple notches in my head. But then, I usually have to like a movie to like its soundtrack. Well, no, maybe I just have to have seen the movie to like its soundtrack. And I need to stick to the point here.
Anyways. I found the soundtrack on YouTube, and it’s one of my favorite things to listen to while I’m doing dishes. Heehee.
One of my favorite songs from the movie:
So, would I recommend this movie? Weeeeell… if you’re already a secure Janeite – read the novels, learned a bit about Jane Austen’s life, perhaps even read some of her letters – and want to watch a bio-fic movie, then maybe so. Just prepare to be disappointed.
My Grade/Rating: B-
Actors I recognized from other films I’ve seen/seen part of
Olivia Williams (Jane Austen) – Jane Fairfax in Emma (1996, A&E)
Greta Scacchi (Cassandra Austen) – Mrs. Weston in Emma (1996, Miramax), Lydia Glasher in Daniel Deronda (2002)
Imogen Poots (Fanny Knight) – Blanche Ingram in Jane Eyre (2011)
Tom Hiddleston (John Plumptre) – William Buxton in Return to Cranford (2009)
Hugh Bonneville (Rev. Brook Bridges) –
guy Mr. Grandcourt in Daniel Deronda