Miss Austen Regrets (2008 TV Movie)
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All memory of the toxically banal Ann Hathaway as the younger Jane evaporated as the lovely Olivia Williams settled into the part - so successfully that the sideswipe the writer takes at the earlier production 20 minutes in seems inappropriately vengeful.
Without hitting the exact spot, this was very, very much better.
It played on safer ground. It portrays Austen between the publication of Mansfield Park and Emma, just starting on the first draft of Persuasion and surrounds her with characters with credible lives of their own. It does an excellent job of demonstrating just how fragile was the life of even a woman successful and famous enough to be a guest of the Prince Regent. Only by marriage rather than as a result of her work can Jane support her family in their modest style of life. Questions over her brother's estate threaten the house she lives in but can never own. This insecurity is what Miss Austen really regrets.
All the minor performances are what you'd expect from top-drawer BBC period drama and Olivia Williams and Imogen Poots are excellent in the two central roles of aunt who hasn't given up flirting and the niece about to become engaged who is still learning the ropes. The whole production portrays an interesting life, full of love, frustration, struggle and uncertainty about life's choices, and does something like justice to one of the greatest authors of literature and her most intimate concerns.
So, if you've seen neither of the two recent dramas about Jane Austen's life and you're prone to kicking the cat when angered, make absolutely certain that you see this one first.
The few facts we have show that Jane received only one marriage proposal during her life, and that was from someone with an irritating personality. Harris Bigg-Wither was described by Jane's niece Caroline Austen and by one of his own descendants, Reginald Bigg-Wither, as unattractive at best: he was plain, if not homely, stuttered, aggressive in conversation, and almost completely tactless. Those objectionable qualities, despite his comfortable financial position, would have put off many women, then *or* now. Had he had a more pleasing personality, Harris might have tried first for a fiancée from a more prosperous family instead of proposing to Jane.
Moreover, Jane had known Harris since childhood and probably knew full well what she'd be getting into if she decided to marry him. To endure Bigg-Wither every so often at social occasions was one thing, but to marry him and have to endure that personality day in and day out would have been quite another. The simplest explanation is that Austen initially agreed to his proposal in order to be less of a burden to and/or provide for her family, but she knew him too well not to immediately regret her decision the next morning -- and thus she reneged on her acceptance in less than a day, and remained single. She probably considered that the lesser of two evils.
The truth, then, is *not* that Jane Austen turned down acceptable proposals and made a conscious decision to put her writing first and stay independent, particularly given that she *never was* financially independent, but rather that no handsome, sweet-tempered, intelligent man, with or without means, ever asked her. She may have had such men as friends or acquaintances, but none of them ever proposed. If one had, remaining single would have been a much harder decision -- but that's moot, because such a man never did ask. Period. And that's a rude truth she had to suffer for all her adult life. It's not a truth that Miss Austen Regrets chose to address, however, and that is the film's greatest failing.
This movie is apparently very closely based on the few remaining letters between Jane, her sister Cassandra and her favourite niece Fanny; an assumption of those very intimate and loving letters, a sort of a hypothesis that Jane chose not to marry of her own, by refusing several marriage proposals to be able to write and for her 'freedom'. It is a very emancipated and 21st Century feminist friendly theory. Some hard- core Austen historians still insist though, that Jane never married because, in her very youth, she refused a marriage proposal from a very rich yet ugly, old and dull man...Mr Bigg...and then she was never asked again...for her no Mr. Darcy came along.
Therefore, biographically not fully bullet-proofed but historical events are accurate.
Love the many quotes incorporated in the movie!
I've never heard of Olivia Williams but I must say she earned all my admiration and will look out for her past and future works! Great actress!
If you like BBC period dramas or even Jane Austen's novels adaptations, then you most certainly will enjoy this; a great family-movie which will inspire the interested Teenager to read Jane Austen novels...(so I hope!)
I don't understand why, in the 2007/8 BBC JA fest, this and Northanger Abbey were so good, and Persuasion and Mansfield Park we so very, very bad. Couldn't they have gotten some of the people who did such a great job on these (script, camera, production) and put them on the rest? I don't have much hope for the Sense & Sensibility, but we'll see.
The only possible criticism of Miss Austen Regrets is how it starts off at such a startlingly quick pace, so much so that if the credits hadn't run I would have thought I'd come in on a good third of the production already gone. Allthe speculation of Jane Austen never having been in love, or having a chance at marriage (especially an advantageous one) is dashed in the first few minutes. From there the audience is left to wonder at the title--is it a what or who she regrets?
The biopic focuses on Jane Austen's latter years, and uses her relationship with her niece Fanny as a means of exploring her past relationships. We come to see financial security was of paramount concern to her, yet that concern was not so much for her sake as it was for her family's. We also see that her freedom to write being more important to her than love. Yet, it is all speculation. It isn't really clear that she had regrets at all. She exuded a satisfaction, so the title is a bit misleading.
What this new biopic brings out is the independence Jane enjoyed, and how much she enjoyed writing. The acting is commendable, the factual details admirable, and the rendering of the time satisfactory (although Jane's outfits swung from either being rather matronly to almost brazen). An enjoyable addition to Austen offerings. Yet, maybe it's time to leave off on the conjectures and meddling in her love life and focus on the brilliance of her writing--no speculation there.
I have enjoyed this much more than the new adaptations of her novels on Masterpiece Theatre except for Northanger Abbey. Mansfield Park and Persuasion were OK but not great and I don't know how good Sense and Sensibility is going to be.