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This film is very loosely based on the life of Jane Austen, prior to her becoming a successful author.  Jane (Anne Hathaway), whose mother wants her to marry a rich man, meets and falls for penniless lawyer Tom Lefroy (James McAvoy).  Their relationship inspires her writing, and in particular, her novel Pride and Prejudice (called here by its original title of First Impressions).

If you are looking for a biography of Jane Austen, this film is not it.  In fact, the real Jane only referred to Tom Lefroy in a couple of letters to her older sister Cassandra, so this film merely seems to take that as a jumping off point, from which to create a love story.  The subject of the story could just as easily have been a fictional character, but I imagine that to make it about Jane Austen drew in fans of the author (it’s what made me want to watch it).

Although it received quite bad reviews, I did enjoy the film for what it was.  Anne Hathaway is an unusual choice to play Jane Austen, but I thought she did well, and her accent was convincing; had I not known that she is American, I would have believed she was English based on this film.  James McAvoy was also very good as Tom Lefroy, and I thought the two of them had good chemistry.  The supporting cast consists of several well known names, including Maggie Smith, Julie Walters, Laurence Fox, James Cromwell and Anna Maxwell Martin – unfortunately all of them were somewhat under-used, but made the most of their parts.

I found it interesting that the first part of the film mirrored somewhat the plot of Pride and Prejudice – a headstrong and intelligent girl is determined to marry for love, while her mother implores her to marry a rich man, who can support her and her family.  Indeed, Jane is portrayed very much as a Lizzie Bennet type character, and there were also some witty lines and comic scenes.

The second part of the film is more dramatic, and anyone who knows much about Jane Austen’s life, will know whether or not the romance with Lefroy works out.  I thought the ending was a bit too long, and the film could have ended about 30 minutes earlier, but all the same, it tied up all the loose ends nicely.

Overall, an enjoyable film – if you are a Jane Austen fan, approach with caution and be aware that it is very much an imagined version of this part of Jane’s life, but if you are okay with that, then give it a watch.  You might be pleasantly surprised.

Year of release: 2007

Director: Julian Jarrold

Producers: Jeff Abberley, Julia Blackman, Nicole Finnan, Tim Haslam, Joanna Anderson, Robert Bernstein, Graham Broadbent, Noelette Buckley, James Flynn, Morgan O’Sullivan, Douglas Rae, James Saynor

Writers: Jane Austen (letters), Kevin Hood, Sarah Williams

Main cast: Anne Hathaway, James McAvoy, Maggie Smith, Julie Walters, Laurence Fox, James Cromwell, Ian Richardson, Anna Maxwell Martin, Lucy Cohu, Joe Anderson

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This three part mini-series picks up six years after the finish of Pride and Prejudice.  Lizzie and Darcy are still happily married, and have a son, young Fitzwilliam.  As they are preparing for the annual ball at Pemberley, they are shocked when Lizzie’s younger sister Lydia arrives unannounced and says that there has been a shooting in the woods around Pemberley.  When Darcy organises a group of men to go and see, he finds his brother-in-law Wickham, cradling the body of Wickham’s friend Martin Denny.  Wickham is arrested for murder, and the Darcys look set to be dragged into scandal.

Modern sequels to much-loved classics can be very hit and miss, and I chose not to read the book by P D James, which this mini series was based on.  Partly because I like to leave Elizabeth and Darcy where the book finished – happy and in love – and partly because a murder mystery did not (to me) really seem in keeping with the themes of Pride and Prejudice.  Nonetheless, I was unable to resist watching the series, and for the most part, it was very enjoyable.

Matthew Rhys plays Darcy, who while still bearing the buttoned-up and formal demeanour of P&P, is clearly a devoted husband and involved father.  I really really enjoyed his portrayal, and thought that not only did he look exactly right for the part, but he also captured exactly how I thought Darcy should be.  Also, Matthew Goode (who I also really liked in Dancing on the Edge last year) was perfect as Wickham.  Dastardly, unfaithful, and untrustworthy – but a murderer?  Well, you’ll have to watch to find out, but Goode did make Wickham at least a somewhat sympathetic character.  Jenna Coleman was Lydia, and she too was excellent – I have always found Lydia to be an intensely irritating brat, but like Goode, Coleman brought some sympathy to the character.

I’m still not sure about Anna Maxwell Martin as Elizabeth – she is undoubtedly a terrific actress, but she doesn’t seem the right fit for Lizzie Bennet (Lizzie Darcy now, of course!) somehow; she looks nothing like how I would imagine Lizzie to look.  I liked the way the character was portrayed though – still with Lizzie’s strong spirit and healthy opinion, but also a loving wife.

The storyline was a bit hokey, and shifted the beloved characters into new territory, and a new genre, but it was entertaining enough to hold my attention for the three hour duration, and on balance, I would recommend it as a bit of enjoyable fun, rather than any kind of serious sequel.

Year of release: 2013

Director: Daniel Percival

Producers: Polly Hill, Ed Rubin, Joanie Blaikie, Rebecca Eaton, Patrick Irwin, P.D. James, Justin Thomson-Glover, Hugo Heppell, Eliza Mellor, Emma Pike, David M. Thompson

Writers: P.D. James (novel), Jane Austen (inspired by novel ‘Pride and Prejudice’), Juliette Towhidi

Main cast: Matthew Rhys, Anna Maxwell Martin, Matthew Goode, Jenna Coleman, Trevor Eve, Tom Ward, Eleanor Tomlinson, James Norton, Nichola Burley, Joanna Scanlan

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Click here for my review of the novel Pride and Prejudice.

Click here for my review of the 2005 film adaptation of Pride and Prejudice.

Click here for my review of the 1995 mini series adaptation of Pride and Prejudice.

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