Jane Austen (ANNE HATHAWAY) believes in love. Her parents (JULIE WALTERS and JAMES CROMWELL) want her to marry for money and in 1795 England, that was the way of the world for a young woman. But when the 20-year-old meets the dashing young Irishman, Tom Lefroy (JAMES MCAVOY), his intellect and arrogance ignite Jane's curiosity and her world spins head-over-heels. Can Jane afford to spurn the offer of Lady Gresham's (MAGGIE SMITH) nephew, defy the authority of her parents and fly in the face of social convention? In BECOMING JANE, a young lady on the first rung of literary greatness risks a romance that was to shape her life and her work.
"Affection is desirable, money is absolutely indispensable."
Jane Austen (ANNE HATHAWAY) lit up the world with her words, wit and wisdom. But her life too was stoked by passion and romance. At the age of twenty she met and fell in love with Tom Lefroy (JAMES MCAVOY) and their relationship sparks a tale as real and romantic as her greatest work.
In English society of 1795 marrying for love was a fool's game. Money made this class-obsessed world go round. Mr and Mrs Austen (JAMES CROMWELL; JULIE WALTERS), with their youngest daughter to wed, were only too aware of this. But their Jane is not for turning. Blessed with a feisty independent spirit the twenty-year-old sees a world beyond that of class and commerce, beyond pride and prejudice. She wants to marry for love.
Even so her parents want what is best for Jane - a wealthy, well-appointed husband. This could be Mr Wisley, nephew to the local aristocrat, the very formidable and very rich Lady Gresham (MAGGIE SMITH). But despite their best efforts and intentions, Jane turns down all entreaties.
Then she meets the young Irishman Tom Lefroy. He is a trainee lawyer, visiting Hampshire from London, accompanied by Jane's brother, Henry. He is handsome and intelligent and poor. He also disdains the unsophisticated country folk. But this young rake finds more than he bargained for in the precocious talent and ferocious independence of Jane Austen.
Increasingly their paths intersect. They cross verbal swords in the local wood, they dance at the assembly rooms ball, she outplays him at cricket and he gives her Tom Jones to read. They are falling in love.
But they are being watched. Jane's cousin Eliza and her sister, Cassandra warn her of the implications of the affair. Lady Gresham casts a cold eye while Mr Wisley hops and hopes. Tom's uncle, Judge Langlois (IAN RICHARDSON) who has invested personally and financially in the future of his nephew and prodigy, is not going to see his investment frittered away and Mr and Mrs Austen vainly attempt to enlighten their dearest daughter.
The couple have to make a decision. Tom suggests they elope, the consequences of which are potentially catastrophic. Jane's family are not well-off and she is in danger of becoming destitute and shamed. Lefroy's family in Ireland are relying on him for their finance and their future. If they run away they stand to lose everything: family, friends and fortune. Are they ready to take that final step and offend the sense and sensibility of the Age?
BECOMING JANE, describes a pivotal liaison in Jane Austen's young life. It tells a tale of romance, intrigue and duty. It embraces family, friendship and fortune. It touches on goodness, greatness and genius. It is all about becoming Jane.
BECOMING JANE is written by Kevin Hood and Sarah Williams and directed by Julian Jarrold. The cast includes ANNE HATHAWAY (Jane Austen), JAMES MCAVOY (Tom Lefroy), JULIE WALTERS (Mrs Austen), JAMES CROMWELL (Mr Austen) and DAME MAGGIE SMITH as Mrs Gresham. BECOMING JANE is produced by Graham Broadbent, Robert Bernstein and Douglas Rae for Ecosse Films in association with Blueprint Pictures. The film is also produced by Scion Films with backing from 2Entertain, the UK Film Council's Premiere Fund and the Irish Film Board. Miramax Films will distribute in the US.
The director of Photography is Eigil Bryld, the production designer is Eve Stewart and costume design is by Eimear Ní Mhaoldhomhnaigh.
The production story
In 2003, biographer Jon Spence stirred the literary world and Austen fans everywhere with revelations that the cherished authoress and spinster Jane Austen had actually experienced the romance and excitement of love, of which she is celebrated for writing about. It was a little known fact, and although referenced and acknowledged in most Austen biographies, Jon Spence researched the facts and his suspicions and theories further and marshalled the evidence as part of his enlightening biography, "Becoming Jane Austen". His biography challenged the long-held view that Jane Austen and Tom Lefroy never met again after his visit to Hampshire during the Christmas holiday of 1795. It also concluded that "their relationship was serious and more enduring than the brief flirtation that previous biographers had assumed."
This romantic encounter had fascinated writer Sarah Williams and she approached Douglas Rae and Robert Bernstein of Ecosse Films. She had read how, at the age of 20, Jane Austen met with a young Irishman called Tom Lefroy. That meeting was to blossom into a romance, the significance of which had been downplayed for over two centuries. Ecosse Films was immediately engaged. "This was a pivotal relationship in Jane Austen's early life that was largely unknown to the public," says Robert Bernstein. "This relationship transformed her life and we felt that the film could be a companion piece to MRS BROWN, (an earlier Ecosse film that chronicled a similar true life friendship in Queen Victoria's life). The thing about Jane Austen is that beneath her strict exterior she had a beating heart which was awoken by this relationship and through that she became arguably the greatest female novelist that ever lived."
Jon Spence, was hired as a historical consultant on the film and brought his wealth of learning and detective work to BECOMING JANE. "My role was to see that, given that the 'story' is a work of imagination, the factual material was as accurate as possible within the limitations of the story."
The actual facts of the story, according to Jon Spence, are as follows:
(i) Jane Austen met Tom Lefroy when he visited his aunt and uncle in Hampshire at Christmas 1795 when they were both 20.
(ii) Jane visited London briefly in August 1796 and there is strong evidence that she stayed at the house of Tom's uncle, where Tom himself was living.
(iii) Tom returned to Ireland to practice law in late 1798, married the sister of a school friend, and named his first daughter Jane.
Rae and Bernstein commissioned Williams to write a screenplay. In 2004, after a couple of drafts were completed, Kevin Hood, who had previously written MAN AND BOY, was hired by Ecosse Films. "Kevin has a romantic sensibility," says Bernstein. "There is a poetic quality about his writing as well as there being a rigorous emotional truth which I thought was important for Jane."
Kevin Hood was intrigued by the premise. "I was attracted to the project because the story is such an important one and very much the inspiration for Pride and Prejudice," says Hood. "People forget what a genius Jane Austen was, one of the top two or three prose writers of all time and her relationship with Tom Lefroy was absolutely essential in shaping her work. Some believe she would not have become the writer she was if it had not been for this relationship. The period of life before marriage was what she always wrote about; it was a subject of perpetual interest to her. She also returned again and again to the figure of the attractive unreliable young man - this was arguably based on her personal experience."
"The film is based on the facts as they are known and the majority of characters did exist, as did many of the situations and circumstances in the film", says Kevin Hood. "Some have been fictionalised, weaving together what we know about Austen's world from her books and letters, creating a rich Austenite landscape."
The third member of the production team, Graham Broadbent of BluePrint Pictures became attached in March 2004. He was immediately impressed by the unusual perspective of the script. "There were, for me, some startling and brilliant facts when I first read the script," he says. "The first one was that Jane Austen was not a dusty old spinster, she was once a twenty-year-old girl who had a love affair which didn't proceed further for societal reasons and other pressures of the time. What the writer Kevin Hood has done is to take the true incident of that love and put around it Jane's family and her experiences and then set it all against the Austen landscape."
In early 2005 Julian Jarrold was hired by Ecosse Films to direct the film. "I liked his style as it was modern and visceral, and I just had a feeling that he was the right choice," says Robert Bernstein. "This piece needed to be handed with delicacy but also with a certain amount of brio and Julian was able to bring those two things to the production."
Jarrold completed KINKY BOOTS before returning to BECOMING JANE at the beginning of 2006. Although already familiar with the Austen world, he reread Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility and Persuasion. He also consulted a number of Jane Austen biographies, particularly Jon Spence's Becoming Jane Austen. But the bible remained Kevin Hood's screenplay: a work that tells a tale from Austen's real life with many witty allusions to her fictional work.
"I thought it was a rich, witty and clever screenplay from someone who obviously knew his subject very well," he says. "It is a love story but much more besides. Kevin's screenplay has so many layers and interesting ideas. Apart from the love story I was very attracted by the themes of imagination and experience."
"The story of Jane's romance with Tom Lefroy was fresh and surprising. It also offered a fascinating insight into her life and was probably an experience that helped form her as a great artist. I thought the screenplay was interesting because it focused on Jane as a young woman full of exuberance and life and is a thoughtful and imaginative response to her life and work. I was also very attracted to the more provocative scenes that don't normally appear in an Austen film. We see the more risqué side of regency life in London at Gentleman Jackson's, the boxing, the cricket and the country fair. These are scenes that Jane Austen was aware of but never wrote about."
Even so the filmmaker was somewhat daunted by the subject matter: aware of how proprietorial people can be of the beloved author. "Everyone has their own treasured image of Jane Austen," says Jarrold. "The usual image is of a middle-aged spinster; a little prim and obsessed with manners and propriety. This is a very narrow and partial image and not borne out by the known facts. In fact, despite the huge numbers of biographies, we know little about Jane Austen's life. Her letters are an important source of information. Unfortunately many have not survived. Cassandra took particular care to destroy personal family material and her first letter about her "flirtation" with Tom Lefroy probably survived only by mistake. With this film I wanted to see Jane portrayed as a real person of flesh and blood and not as a museum piece.
Jarrold evokes the words of another great writer to explain the predicament of working on a period drama. "Henry James wrote that we are divided between liking to feel the past strange and liking to feel it familiar," he says. "Filming period drama one is always beset with this conflict in terms of acting style and behaviour, props, costumes, script details and style of filming etc. We all tried to make the film in as "truthful" and "real" a manner as possible and hope that we got the balance right."
BECOMING JANE is a classic love story with Jane Austen herself in the centre of the frame. It detonates the common perception of the famous author as a dowdy maid toiling away in a lonely room: this is a young woman in love with life and its possibilities and potential. It puts Jane Austen in a real time and a real place, familiar to us from the writer's novels. We meet her parents, her family and her friends. "I hope BECOMING JANE works as a fresh and interesting take on the world of Jane Austen," says Julian Jarrold. "I hope the poignancy between the happiness she allows her heroines and the reality of her life resonates with people. I hope it brings even more people to her books and reveals another side to an author, who is seen by some as being remote, a bit prim and obsessed with propriety."