Anne Hathaway (Love and Other Drugs) gives a radiant performance as a young, love-struck Jane Austen in the witty and engaging romantic comedy Becoming Jane. It s the untold romance that inspired the novels of one of the world's most celebrated authors. When the dashing Tom Lefroy (James McAvoy, Atonement), a reckless and penniless lawyer-to-be, enters Jane's life, he offends the emerging writer's sense and sensibility. Soon their clashing egos set off sparks that ignite a passionate romance and fuel Jane's dream of doing the unthinkable--marrying for love. Becoming Jane, also starring the acclaimed Maggie Smith, James Cromwell and Julie Walters, is an enchanting and imaginative film you'll fall head over heels for.
Like Molière, which was released in theaters around the same time, Becoming Jane isn't a conventional biopic. Instead, Julian Jarrold (White Teeth) expands on events from Jane Austen's life that may have shaped her fiction. To his credit, he doesn't stray too far from the facts. In 1795, 20-year-old Jane (Anne Hathaway with believable British accent) is an aspiring author. Her parents (Julie Walters and James Cromwell) married for love, and money is tight. They hope to see their youngest daughter make a more lucrative match, and there's a besotted local, Mr. Wisley (Laurence Fox, son of actor James Fox), who would be happy to oblige. Unfortunately, Jane isn't interested. Then, she meets brash law student Tom (The Last King of Scotland's James McAvoy), while he's staying with relatives in rural Hampshire. As in many Austen novels, it isn't love at first sight--but rather irritation. Just as affection begins to bloom, Tom has to return to London, and Wisley, whose financial prospects are superior, proposes. To complicate matters, Tom's uncle (Ian Richardson in his final performance) disapproves of the outspoken young lady just as much as Wisley's aunt (Maggie Smith, lending the proceedings some subtle humor). Had Austen penned the script, Tom and Wisley would be combined into one person, but life doesn't work that way--and nor does Becoming Jane. Though Jarrold's effort may not be as swoon-worthy as Joe Wright's Pride and Prejudice, it remains true to the spirit of the author's work. --Kathleen C. Fennessy