Austen in August Challenge – Favourite Film About Austen’s Life

Being honest, I can feel slightly squeamish about books or films about real people. This is very strange as I don’t mind historical fiction. It’s as if my integrity on the issue fades once the people have been dead five hundred years or more. The worst was once I stumbled down an Internet rabbithole in IMDB and discovered Daniel Radcliffe themed fan fiction – people making up stories about him going about his life. All the while he actually went about his real life, people were writing novel-length pretendy stories about him. So so so weird. Basically, I think it cannot be very nice to have your life fictionalised, to be presented in a way that is not true and to have this done entirely without your consent or control. Hilary Mantel addresses this in the closing pages of Wolf Hall, how in historical fiction, we put words in the mouths of those who have dead – is this even moral? I think that it bothers me more when it happens to people who were otherwise private citizens. For Henry VIII to be the subject of fiction is one thing, even though being written up by Philippa Gregory is not a fate to be wished on anyone. But for Austen, who tried so hard to be private, it feels even more unfair. Yet still her life continues to fascinate and the films keep rolling in. Despite my scruples, I think I’ve seen them all. And I do have a favourite.

It isn’t trendy within Austen fandom to prefer Becoming Jane. For devotees, Miss Austen Regrets has far greater accuracy. I’ve seen it. It’s good too. Sad, but nonetheless extremely watchable. It gave me a lot of thoughts about what Austen’s life, what the cottage at Chawton must have really meant to her. But I loved Becoming Jane. Anne Hathaway may not be the most believable Jane Austen in the world but she does a fine job as a spirited heroine. More significantly, when I first watched this film, it was at the very peak of my crush on James McAvoy. It’s this, Atonement and also Penelope – in my view, they’re his best ones. The X-men days were a real downturn in my eyes. I think the fact that deep down I know that the the actual storyline is most likely a load of tosh also helps me to feel more comfortable in watching something about the life of someone who I know preferred to be private. Jane Austen’s sister burned and purged all evidence that might have revealed anything particularly personal about her life. If there is dirt, we don’t have it. I like to imagine watching Becoming Jane on the sofa with the real Jane – I imagine her snorting with laughter and shaking her head, “This never happened!” Ah, but it’s a good film anyway!

For the rest of my Austen in August Fan Challenge – see here

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4 thoughts on “Austen in August Challenge – Favourite Film About Austen’s Life

  1. I must admit, I share the qualms you have about novels/films written about people who wished their lives to remain private. I certainly think writing fiction about someone who is still alive is a pretty dodgy area. These Internet stories about Daniel Radcliff you mentioned actually sound quite sick. Ugh! Historical fiction about public figures is great though, provided it has been researched and the writer shows a degree of respect for his/her subject, Mantel being a great example of someone getting it right. The less said about Ms. Gregory, the better.
    I haven’t actually seen Becoming Jane, so I might try to get hold of it. It sounds like fun, even if not historically accurate.

    1. So glad to hear from someone else who shares my disdain for Ms Gregory. Not a fan!
      Becoming Jane is terrific fun provided you don’t take it too seriously. I also liked what it implied about her having a good relationship with her brother George even if it is likely not to be true. It’s a warm-hearted film if perhaps an inaccurate one.

  2. I like this movie for James McAvoy too. I think he’s a great actor but I don’t like the kinds of movies he’s made recently. Not my genre. My favourite Austen film of all time is Sense & Sensibility. Emma Thompson’s script is so excellent.

    1. I like Emma Thompson’s Sense and Sensibility too although my pick for yesterday’s prompt (Favourite Austen Adaptation) was 1995’s Persuasion. There were a lot of really great adaptations in the 1990s … less sure about the current bunch!
      I agree too that James McAvoy used to make better picks for his films but I also suspect he makes a lot more money now so I guess he’s made his choice 🤷‍♀️

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