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