Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Miss Austen Regrets- a Meandering and Chatty Review

Once, when I was still innocent, I watched a movie titled Becoming Jane. Ten minutes later, I was finished. I couldn’t take the pain anymore. And I know this sounds a tad dramatic ( I am, after all, raised on a diet of Bollywood), but these are my true feelings. I couldn’t bear Anne Hathaway’s pout-smirk, the idiotic dialogues, and the wildly improbable plot. Well I did only watch ten minutes, but I heartily disliked it. I still dislike it. They slaughtered Jane Austen.  ( Must curb drama!). I mean, they misunderstood Jane Austen.  Apart from grudgingly acknowledging the soundtrack, I decided I never wanted to think of Becoming Jane again, lest I do bodily damage to the t.v screen.

This week I finally got to finish another biopic on Jane Austen, the BBC production depressingly called Miss Austen Regrets. Why did I open myself to the possibility of another heartburn? Well, I’d done my homework properly this time, and actually watched the trailer. I was initially struck by two things: Olivia Williams, and the fact that they appeared to have used some of Jane’s actual lines.

I love Miss Austen Regrets. Without reservation and without regret ( lame pun totally intentional). Why do I love this movie so? Let me count the ways:
  1.   As I’d mentioned earlier, Olivia Williams. I consider OW a fine actress, who seems tres overrated and who possesses a wonderfully mobile face, not to mention very expressive eyes. Unlike those who shall not be mentioned, she really seemed to get the character of Austen. I loved how she portrayed her, with an ironic air and witty pronouncements on men that barely masked the fragile vulnerability underneath. 

2.       I’m glad that unlike BJ, they didn’t entirely focus on Jane’s love life. Though in Miss Austen Regrets, the focus seems to be Jane’s apparent lack of a love life. But intertwined with the theme of romance inexperienced were Jane’s concerns with writing, and with the need for money to support her sister and her mother. As she remarks bitterly to Rev. Bridges, one of her admirers, “ I am to be my own husband it seems.” Taking such responsibility  is not easy, even in our enlightened twenty-first century. I read in the papers last week that women in Canada were still making less money at their jobs than their male counterparts. And if women are having difficulties now in 2010, imagine those difficulties magnified in 1810, where women did not have much (if any) choice in the way of careers.

  2.  Hugh Bonneville! I’m so pleased he’s in this. I’ve a soft spot for him, mainly because he’s such a reliable actor. He always delivers. In all the roles I’ve seen him in so far, he’s managed to execute them so capably that I never have trouble distinguishing them apart.  His rendition of Rev. Bridges was like Williams’ portrayal of Austen: emotionally repressed yet vulnerable.

3. A grand part of Jane’s dialogue was taken from the letters which she wrote, making it all more “real.” I felt happy knowing that this was what Jane really thought, and not some lines a screenwriter conjured out of thick air.

4.   The costumes were lovely, and I loved the colours of Jane’s dresses, especially the dark red-brown dress she wore most of the time and another dress of royal blue. Such deep, warm colours suit Olivia’s complexion very well, and I hankered after those dresses myself, in spite of my proclaimed affection for jeans.

5.  I was impressed with Imogen Poots’ portrayal of Fanny. I found Fanny extremely annoying; naïve, simplistic and self-absorbed, and I applaud Imogen for carrying off such characteristics so well. Fanny is after all, a teenager, and her youth and emotional outbursts were very well contrasted with Jane’s maturity and finely masked feelings.

I suppose I should reason out why I dislike BJ so much and why I entirely prefer Miss Austen Regrets. First of all, biopics are hard. Considering the fact that they’re about real people, I can understand the dilemma that confronts directors, screenwriters and actors: How does one make the film as real and relatable as possible? How can the film reel in viewers’ attention?
The problem with Becoming Jane, is that I feel the directors, screenwriters,etc., ignored the first question and jumped onto the second question.  And I feel insulted, because they obviously didn’t consider the real details of Jane’s life interesting enough to stick to them. Instead they created a fiction with the scanty information they had, an enjoyable fiction I suppose, but a fiction nonetheless.
Miss Austen Regrets however, seems to have regarded both questions with intelligence. Not only is it much more historically accurate than Becoming Jane, Jane Austen’s character is explored with respect and sensitivity. While it might not be 100% true ( I think that’s too much to ask of anything, really), the format of sticking with what was known along with throwing in some deviations worked stylistically and flowed smoothly.

Perhaps the film’s greatest advantage is that the character Jane actually uses some of the lines that the real Jane wrote.  I stress this because using these lines from Jane Austen’s letters made Olivia Williams’ portrayal much more real to me. I could imagine the real Jane saying them, and this was no great feat because she had said them.  Or wrote them, if you want to be painfully accurate.  In Becoming Jane on the other hand, I could scarcely imagine the real Jane even thinking up such lines, much less saying them. Please note that I did only watch ten minutes, so I’m talking about the first ten minutes of the film. I don’t care to put myself through more torture to hear the rest of Jane’s lines in BJ. I’d rather drink cough syrup.
Perhaps none of the films got Jane Austen. And I don’t think any film, any biographer can present the whole, unvarnished truth. Books, films, letters, can all reveal several facets of a person’s character, but can never be, and will never be exhaustive troves of information on that person. And while I cannot know Jane Austen because she is dead; I can admire her spirit and her independence, and thank her for all the hours of simple enjoyment I have found in her books.

P.S: I claim Henry Tilney as MINE! Ah, the power of having a blog! I can say anything, anything!


  1. I'm so glad you reviewed this! I've often wondered if I should take a chance with it or not, and now I think I will. (Eventually. I don't think our library system owns it.) And now I won't have any regrets (pun intended) not watching BJ. I can't stand Anne Hathaway except as Princess Mia. Now I won't have any guilty feelings about ignoring the movie because I don't like the actress.

    From Books to Movies and Back Again

  2. Hey Hydra!

    I think you'll enjoy Miss Austen Regrets. I thought it was very tastefully and sensitively done, and the cast did a very good job. And I don't blame Anne Hathaway, she is after all, a Hollywood star, and her performance was very 21st century Hollywood. BJ is all right as a fiction, but it pales in comparison to MAR. I hope I'm not too presumptous is saying the MAR is by far the better movie.

  3. Sorry, Henry Tilney has already been claimed by yours truly! :P LOL. . . actually, he has quite a legion of fans - even Mags of Austenblog is an admirer! Have you seen this fansite that she created?

    I've put off seeing Miss Austen Regrets and Becoming Jane, thinking I would probably strongly dislike them both. . . but I might have to give Miss Austen Regrets a try after reading your review!


  4. Elise,

    I see we'll have to duke it out for the favour of the oh-so-fine Tilney. And I've seen that fansite- it's hilarious! Guilty pleasure indeed. I think you'll like MAR; I think it's such a sad, sweet gem of a movie.


I delight in comments! However, I do not delight in profanity or vindictive remarks. Let us encourage each other and enjoy each varying opinion.