The year is 1795 and young Jane Austen is a feisty 20-year-old and emerging writer who already sees a world beyond class and commerce, beyond pride and prejudice, and dreams of doing what was then nearly unthinkable - marrying for love. Naturally, her parents are searching for a wealthy, well-appointed husband to assure their daughter's future social standing. They are eyeing Mr. Wisley, nephew to the very formidable, not to mention very rich, local aristocrat Lady Gresham, as a prospective match. But when Jane meets the roguish and decidedly non-aristocratic Tom Lefroy, sparks soon fly along with the sharp repartee. His intellect and arrogance raise her ire - then knock her head over heels. Now, the couple, whose flirtation flies in the face of the sense and sensibility of the age, is faced with a terrible dilemma. If they attempt to marry, they will risk everything that matters - family, friends and fortune.
In this fictional adaptation of the life of Jane Austen, we see a possible scenario of Jane's life that may have prompted the beloved author to start down her writing path and pen 6 of the greatest literary works of our time (or least as far as the "epilogue at the end of the movie has suggested) - "Pride and Prejudice", "Emma", "Sense and Sensibility", "Persuasion", "Mansfield Park", and ""Northanger Abbey". Pretty impressive, especially for a female from that time period. Anyway, it comes as no surprise that we see Jane is very like her Elizabeth Bennett, so much so that in fact I think she WAS Elizabeth Bennett, only her fictional life turned out the way that Jane's real one could not.
Much like in "Pride and Prejudice", Jane's parents are poor and are depending on their daughters to land husbands with at least a modest income. Cassandra, Jane's only sister, has secured a fiance', and Jane is not without her admirers, but she is stubborn and refuses to marry anyone without feeling some affection. Jane is also intelligent, and unafraid of standing up for herself, even in front of those with considerable influence. When she first encounters Tom LeFoy, the charming yet carousing chap who comes to stay with family in the country, it is while she is reading a letter she composed for her sister on her upcoming marriage. Mr. LeFoy, arriving late, is not impressed with her writing, and the two spend much of their time sparring back and forth, which results in them falling passionately in love with each other, instilling a strong desire in each of them to marry.
A rather hopeless situation, as Mr. LeFoy is just as penniless as Jane's family is, and must depend upon his uncle for support. In securing a wife, Mr. LeFoy must also secure the blessing from his uncle or be forced to get by on his own, a rather fragile and impossible state to live in during those times. To top that off, Jane has received a proposal from a socially inept yet affluent young man who will solve the Austen's financial woes, and her mother is strongly encouraging Jane to put away her fanciful romantic notions and face the grim reality of a life in poverty, or worse yet, as a ridiculed spinster. Jane is determined to be a writer, and even goes so far to meet a famous authoress from that time, Ann Radcliffe, who sheds some light on her circumstances for Jane, who finds it an ideal existence (note: nothing has been documented that Ms. Austen actually did meet Radcliffe, though it is mentioned that Jane was influenced by the gothic writer).
It is a slow-moving story, but stirring and poignant as well as we see much of where Jane probably gets her story ideas from, and what may have inspired her greatest works. Twenty years ago, while in my teens, if I would have seen this, I would have hated the film wholeheartedly, but with age comes some wisdom, and the understanding that reality often cruelly intrudes on one's private wishes. Things back then were not like they are today; young women for the most part were dependent upon their families, and/or finding an advantageous marriage. Jane, though lively and pretty and quite intelligent, really was no different and she strongly resented the limitations her station in life placed on her. We know that she never did marry, and died at the age of 41, possibly of tuberculosis.
I would recommend this story to anyone who has a passion for Jane Austen, for bittersweet romances, and/or who enjoys watching period pieces set in 18th century England. I enjoyed all the performances, and loved seeing the probable inspiration for Elizabeth Bennett straight from Jane herself. I liked how intelligent and spirited she was, even at such a young age, yet also vulnerable and mature enough to recognize the hardships that she faced. Anne Hathaway and James McAvoy are just lovely and engaging as Jane and Tom, and the chemistry between them is palpable and quite enjoyable to watch. Watching the movie though, I was a bit distracted trying to figure out why James McAvoy looks so familiar - who does he remind me of? I haven't figured it out yet....Eddie Furlong possibly, I don't know. Anyway, if you in the mood for something more serious and more of the classic nature, this movie might be just the thing for you. Me? Well, I liked it just fine, but I'd prefer watching "Pride and Prejudice" for the wonderful HEA, thank you very much :)
Are you a Jane-ophile?