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Wendy R. Williams Talks to Anne Hathaway and Director Julian Jarrold of Becoming Jane
Press Roundtable
Saturday, July 14, 2007
Regency Hotel

Opposite Photo: Anne Hathaway
Becoming Jane - New York Movie Premiere Arrivals - 7/24/2007
Landmark Sunshine Cinema
Photographed by PR Photos

Rabid Jane Austen fans (this writer included) now have another room in their imagined Pemberley doll houses, Julian Jarrold's new film Becoming Jane tells the story of a supposed early romance in the life of the never married Jane Austen. It is a beautiful romantic story and one that is worthy of Miss Austen herself.

I saw the film and then attended the press roundtable where we were able to talk with the star of the film, Anne Hathaway, and the director, Julian Jarrold.

Here is my review of the film (be sure to scroll down for the interview):


James McAvoy and Anne Hathaway Dance in Becoming Jane
Photo Courtesy of

Julian Jarrold’s
Becoming Jane
Opens Friday, August 3, 2007

Starring: Anne Hathaway; James McAvoy; Julie Walters; James Cromwell; Maggie Smith; Joe Anderson; Lucy Cohu; and Anna Maxwell Margin.

Reviewed by Wendy R. Williams

Tagline: "A woman especially if she has the misfortune of knowing anything, should conceal it as well as she can." Jane Austen

The cast and crew of Becoming Jane took on a Herculean task when they imagined and depicted an early romance for Jane Austen. Their theory was that Austen must have had some experience with love that she used as inspiration for the romanticism of her novels. And in telling this tale, they had very few historical facts with which to work. There are a few small references to Tom Lefroy in the remaining Austen letters (Austen’s sister Cassandra burned most of Jane’s letters when Jane died). Nevertheless, the filmmakers did not simply tell a story of an imagined girlhood crush, they told a story that is filled with themes from Austen’s novels. So the film's title, Becoming Jane, should not be interpreted as to simply the film itself. By telling this story, the creative team channeled the spirit of Jane Austen and literally became Jane.

Here is a quote from the press release for the film: “Becoming Jane, a romantic drama starring Anne Hathaway (The Devil Wears Prada), presents a fresh and daring view of Jane Austen’s early years. Set in the late 18th century, the film portrays Austen’s encounters with the modern, roguish young Irishman, Tom Lefroy (James McAvoy, The Last King of Scotland) and imagines how their romantic encounter could have influenced some of her most famous novels that followed.”

Anyone who ventures to film one of Jane Austen’s stories ventures into a drawing-room-minefield. Austen has millions of fans to whom she is their Jane Austen, a member of the family of their heart. And these fans rigorously defend the honor of their heroine and the heroines of her novels by doing things such as expelling a collective “Hmph” when Kyra Sedgwick (playing the newly married Lizzie Bennet) kisses Matthew Macfadyen (playing Mr. Darcy) at the end of director Joe Wright’s 2005 Pride and Prejudice. (There was no kissing in the book.)

Screenwriters Kevin Hood and Sarah Williams had most definitely studied the Austen novels and the viewer is quickly transported into the world of Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility and Persuasion. It is all there: the marriage market; the relationship between sisters; the romance; the emphasis on character and responsibility; and the suppressed carnality.

The Marriage Market: Jane Austen was born into a world where women of her class had only one option and that was to marry well. There were no colleges to attend; a smart young girl like Jane Austen could not even become a school teacher. And marrying well did not just require looks and charm, it required money. Austen’s novels are filled with details of this marriage market. No character is introduced without another character whispering just exactly what their income is in pounds per year. And in this world, a man or woman who ignored these monetary realities and married for love alone would not only consign themselves to financial ruin, they could easily take their families with them.

The Sisters: Jane Austen had a sister Cassandra to whom she was devoted. Cassandra’s fiancé died before they could be married and Cassandra remained unmarried and Jane’s confidante throughout their lives. This relationship between Austen and her sister was surely the basis for the relationships between Elinor and Marianne Dashwood of Sense and Sensibility and Lizzie and Jane Bennet in Pride and Prejudice. Having a sister must have been a comfort to Austen in her life and writing the character of the sister in her novels gave the Austen’s heroines someone in whom to confide and thus let us (the readers) see their hearts.

The Romance: One of the reasons I believe that Jane Austen’s novels are so beloved is that the heroines conduct their romantic life with honor. They behave the way that we (the readers) wish we had behaved in matters of the heart, always choosing the higher path and forever remaining a lady. And in this imaginary story, Jane Austen does not disappoint. Jane is shown to be magnificent a character, as memorable as the beloved Lizzie Bennet of Pride and Prejudice.

Character and Responsibility: Jane Austen had a keen eye for human foibles and she gave this eye to her heroines. She also gave them an overwhelming sense of responsibility for their families. Elinor Dashwood (Sense and Sensibility) shoulders the burdens of her family. Anne Elliot (Persuasion) forgoes a romance with the poor but dashing Captain Wentworth so she can take care of her irresponsible father and sister. And in Becoming Jane, we see the genesis of Jane Austen’s characters' character; it is the soul of Jane Austen.

The Carnality: In Jane Austen’s world carnality does exist but it is off on the sidelines of the stories - a thunder off in the distance. In Sense and Sensibility, Colonel Brandon’s ward becomes pregnant while unwed. In Pride and Prejudice, Lydia was certainly doing something she was not supposed to do when she ran off with Wickham. But in the film Becoming Jane, we see the carnality of the time. Jane Austen grew up on a working farm where she was surely exposed to the reality of sex. People had huge families and just where did all those pigs come from any way? In the film, we see LeFroy in a whorehouse, jumping into a river stark naked and in the scene where he first meets Jane, he reads a highly erotic passage from a nature book to her and quickly suggest that she read Tom Jones. Rabid Janites will undoubtedly be put off by some of this baseness. They may prefer to continue to view their Jane as a string of pearls on a white lacy dollie. But any sensible person must realize that Jane Austen herself must have been exposed to the realities of sex, if not to the act of sex itself.

So how did our filmmakers do? To quote a character from an Austen novel, “Very well, indeed.”

The film is charming, poignant and fun, just like the Austen novels. The viewer is quickly transported back into 18th century England with the beautiful shabby chic homes. It is a time when people had time to visit and talk and village life was a social life.

And the romance between Jane and Lefroy is beautifully told. Jane Austen is depicted as a fearless heroine, a lady who knows her own heart and mind. And she has a worthy romantic interest in the irascible Irishman, Tom Lefroy. Theirs is a romance of both the mind and heart. And it is a romance that could so easily have gone a less honorable way because Lefroy certainly shows the capacity to be a cad like Wickham in Pride and Prejudice, but he becomes much more when he falls both in lust with Jane and in love with her mind.

All of the actors do superb jobs playing their roles. Anne Hathaway plays a beautiful spirited Jane Austen. James McAvoy plays a roguish, sexually attractive Tom Lefroy. And the films boast an amazing supporting cast: Julie Walters as Jane’s mother; James Cromwell as her father ; Maggie Smith as Lady Gresham (a Lady Catherine De Bourg-like character). Director Julian Jarrold is certainly to be commended for helming this beautiful film.

Anne Hathaway in Becoming Jane
Photo Courtesy of

The Interview with Anne Hathaway

Question about how she felt taking on the challenge of portraying a literary icon.

Anne Hathaway: The terror was incalculable; the pressure was intense [to get it right]. But I viewed it as a chance to show a women who had only been seen as an icon and make her flesh and blood. The standard bio is that she lived in Hampshire, never married and wrote five books. But Jane Austen was a lot more fun than people [are willing to] give her credit for.

Question about whether “the fans” were opposed to her even being cast as Jane Austen.

Anne Hathaway: From what I understand, there was some resistance to my being cast – the girl from the Princess Diaries playing Jane Austen? But I first read Jane Austen’s novels when I was fourteen. Her work transports so many different layers that you can’t help but analyze it. Persuasion became my favorite of the Jane Austen novels.

Question about how she felt using an English accent in a cast filled with famous English actors.

Anne Hathaway: I was going to be surrounded by English actors so I moved to England for a month to work on the accent. The first time I spoke to Julie Waters, she kindly said “Oh, you’ve already gotten it and we have a week and a half to go [before the start of filming].”

Question about the dancing scenes in Becoming Jane. There are some beautiful scenes of the so-called “country” dancing (which actually looks quite formal) in Becoming Jane.

Anne Hathaway: I am a trained dancer; I studied for thirteen years. The first take was hysterical with people falling and bumping into each other. I think it will be on the DVD.

Question about how hard it was to do the calligraphy in the scenes where Jane is shown writing.

Anne Hathaway: I really studied calligraphy so I could do it in the film, but in the end, it was done with a hand double.

Question about doing research for her roles.

Anne Hathaway: I am an absolute card-carrying geek. I love research.

Question about what she is surprised about the most about her career.

Anne Hathaway: I am terribly surprised that I keep getting asked back. I am living in a stratosphere that I find very surprising.

I have worked with some extraordinary directors and [it is wonderful to be able to say] these people believed in me. Gary Marshall (Princess Diaries) was the best first director to have. He saw raw talent and edited the film to make me look good. Ang Lee (Brokeback Mountain) believed in me and thought I could do more and move away from the Princess Diaries. Julian [Jarrold, the director of Becoming Jane] gave me the freedom to create.

Question about whether she has any regrets about not finishing college.

Anne Hathaway: I’m twenty-four; I am too young to have regrets. Don’t count me out of finishing school but I am very proud of the things I have done instead of finishing school.

Questions about how she deals with the paparazzi and what keeps her grounded.

Anne Hathaway: Part of it is just me not being an asshole. I come from a very well-grounded family.

Questions about which films she will be in next.

Anne Hathaway: I am actually in a very lucky situation because I am sitting on three movies that have yet to be released (Becoming Jane had not been released at the time of this interview). I have two other films coming out: Get Smart with Steve Carel; (directed by Peter Segal]) and Passengers with Patrick Wilson (directed by Rodrigo Garcia). And I have just been cast in Jonathan Demme’s Dancing with Sheba; Debra Winger plays my mother

Question about if there is a [Screen Actors Guild] strike, are you planning to perform in a theatrical production.

Anne Hathaway: My people are looking for something for me right now. I would be willing to do anything – musicals, straight play, tap dancing? I would love to play Sally Bowles (Cabaret). My big dream is to be in My Fair Lady.

The Interview with Julian Jarrold

Julian Jarrold was chosen to direct the first Jane Austen (the story of Jane Austen herself) movie for what at first glance seems to be a very peculiar reason; he had done such a magnificent job directing Kinky Boots, a film about a down-at-its-luck English shoe factory which becomes revitalized when it begins producing hot boots for transvestites. But anyone who sees Boots will immediately see why. Kinky Boots, kinky name or not, is a film about a family of friends (boot makers and trannies alike) who pull together to save everyone’s livelihoods.

Question about casting an American as Jane Austen.

Julian Jarrold: Some of the Jane Austen fans were cautious before they saw the movie. But I was looking [to cast] people who had not performed in period pieces before. I wanted to case someone different in the cast to liven it up. In England, people have this perception that Jane Austen was a forty year old spinster sitting on the couch spouting witticisms.

Question about the sources the screenwriters [Kevin Hood and Sarah Williams] used when they were writing the script. What basis did they have for developing the story about Jane’s possible romance with Tom Lefroy?

Julian Jarrold: Jane’s sister Cassandra burned most of her letter after Jane died. Supposedly Jane was quite rude about people in her letters and Cassandra was a more conservative character than Jane. But we do know that in the last year of Lefroy’s life he was asked if he was in love with Jane Austen and he said he was but it was calf love.

Question about whether he is a Janite and does he have a favorite novel.

Julian Jarrold: It would be Sense and Sensibility.

Question about his transvestite film, Kinky Boots.

Julian Jarrold: Kinky Boots was actually an unusual choice and more of departure for me. [For example] I had done the TV version of Great Expectations.

I have tried to do period dramas that have pushed the envelope. Becoming Jane is the most romantic film I have ever done.

James McAvoy in Becoming Jane
Photo Courtesy of

Question about the casting of James McEvoy as Tom Lefroy.

Julian Jarrold: I wanted someone who could bring likeability to a cocky character and McEvoy had the natural charm to skate through the tricky areas where the audience might not like him.

My biggest challenge in directing Becoming Jane was recreating the 18th Century. Anne Hathaway spent a month at the library reading the remaining letters and becoming steeped in that world.

It took [all of us] a lot of time to get it right.

Question about whether there some deleted scenes that are not in the movie.

Julian Jarrold: Yes, there are some very good scenes [that did not make the cut], but you have to be tough with your children.

Question about why the film was shot in Ireland?

Julian Jarrold: Three reasons: money; architecture; and landscape. Ireland has great houses that are less done up. Hampshire is now so perfectly pruned it is no longer authentic looking for the era.

Question about what he is doing next.

I am halfway through filming a version of Brideshead Revisited with Emma Thompson and Michael Gambon. I am a complete fool I know [to recreate a classic like Brideshead Revisited]. But each generation brings its own perspective. No one worries about this in the theater [restaging great plays]. There are multiple productioins of King Lear.

Many thanks to Anne Hathaway and Julian Jarrold for talking with New York Cool.



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