Release Date: February 12, 2008
Starring: Anne Hathaway, James McAvoy, Julie Walters, James Cromwell and Maggie Smith
Written by: Sarah Williams and Kevin Hood
Directed by: Julian Jarrold
Becoming Jane is a literate and classy depiction of the younger life of author Jane Austen that is occasionally moving, particularly as it moves to its conclusion. The movie certainly looks wonderful, from the Irish scenery on display to the period costumes, and the cast is quite appealing. But there is a stiffness and slowness to much of the proceedings that tends to bog things down. The approach feels similar to earlier period literary biopics, including the sweeping score, to the point that this one could well have the alternate title Jane Austen in Love. The plot here is fairly simple: we see the young Jane Austen dealing with her relatively poor family and prospects for either a loveless marriage into wealth or a loving marriage into likely poverty. The choice that she makes would seem to inform the mature writer who will go on to compose six classic English novels. In the end, the film achieves a certain poignancy, but it takes quite a while to get there. Fans of James McAvoy and Anne Hathaway will surely enjoy their work here. Hathaway gives an enthusiastic performance that makes up in sheer charm for the occasional lapses in the accent. It goes without saying that fans of Jane Austen will certainly enjoy this film.
VIDEO QUALITY: 3 ½/5 ½
Becoming Jane is presented in a 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer that ranges from some lush green scenic shots to a detailed display of period costumes. Some shots in this transfer are breathtaking, particularly a very early image of the Austen family walking past a reflecting pond that gets the inevitable stone tossed into it by Jane. There is also a good range of flesh tones, from the notably paler Anne Hathaway to some of the ruddier faces in the cast. The only issue here is that the darker colors don’t translate as crisply. In some scenes, dark green crushed fabric coats come across looking a bit too dark to distinguish them from straight black.
AUDIO QUALITY: 3/5
Becoming Jane is presented in English and Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital mixes that focus much of the sound in the front channels with the dialogue. For the most part, the dialogue is clear, but there are areas where it’s a little softer and the dialects can make it a little hard to understand. The music fills all the channels, and there is an occasional use of the surrounds for atmospheric effect, be it the sounds of wind, birds or rain.
SPECIAL FEATURES: 3 ½/5 ½
Becoming Jane comes with a good assortment of special features, including a group commentary track, a pop-up trivia track, a short documentary and almost 20 minutes of deleted scenes.
Feature Commentary with Director Julian Jarrold, Writer Kevin Hood and Producer Robert Bernstein – All three filmmakers sit together for a scene-specific commentary that covers pretty much everything you’d want to know about this story and about the making of the film. The discussion ranges from the real life of Jane Austen to the production work done to create each scene. Surprisingly, they admit that a small amount of CGI is actually used, even to join together two different takes into a single shot in the completed film. Subtitles are available for this commentary in English, French or Spanish.
Pop-Up Facts and Footnotes – As another commentary option, a subtitle track is included with more information about the film and the real Jane Austen. Some of the information overlaps the audio commentary, but there are many gems here, including the note that Maggie Smith is a member of the Jane Austen Society. In keeping with the period of the film, this track is presented in appropriate old English font. The pop-up commentary can be accessed in English, French or Spanish.
Discovering The Real Jane Austen (17:00, Non-anamorphic) – This short documentary covers the making of the film and includes some notes about the life of Jane Austen and the period. Film clips are intercut with the usual on-set interviews and set video. The interview snippets with Anne Hathaway display how much work actually went into her accent, as her normal voice is completely different. The film’s costumer and choreographer are interviewed about their contributions, as is an advisor on Austen.
Deleted Scenes – (19:29 Total, Full Frame) - MILD SPOILER ALERT: DON’T WATCH THESE UNTIL AFTER SEEING THE FILM – A collection of deleted scenes is presented in full-frame format. Almost all of these are simply extensions of scenes that made it to the final cut, but there are a few additions. Universally, they are unnecessary moments that show more about the characters, but not enough to make them essential to the film. (And had they been included, the film could easily have run to nearly 2 ½ hours.) The scenes are appear to be direct output from the editing machine, and are presented full frame, which leads to many instances of the boom microphone dipping into the shot. This indicates the film was shot “open matte”, with the full frame exposed but the 2.35 frame indicated. In watching these deleted scenes, it’s certainly odd to see period costumes and settings, and then a fuzzy boom in the same shot.
Sneak Peeks – (Anamorphic) – Anamorphic trailers for WALL-E, Dan in Real Life and Enchanted are included here, along with a trailer for Buena Vista Blu-ray titles and a windowboxed trailer for the ABC Family series GREEK.
Subtitles are available in English, Spanish and French on the feature film and the special features, with a bonus that both commentaries also have subtitle tracks in all three languages. A standard chapter menu is included for quick reference. When the disc is first put in the machine, a series of previews play, starting with a windowboxed anti-smoking ad, followed by the same anamorphic trailers for Blu-ray and of WALL-E and Dan in Real Life that can be accessed via the Sneak Peeks menu.
IN THE END...
Becoming Jane is a classy and appealing period romance that has elements of comedy, but also manages to find some deeper levels before it finishes. It’s a bit slow going, but it does get somewhere interesting. The DVD has certainly been assembled with care, and affection for the subject matter. For fans of Jane Austen, Anne Hathaway or James McAvoy, this is an easy purchase. More casual viewers may want to rent this first.
February 26, 2007.