GREAT was my excitement when I saw on the ABC site that Miss Austen Regrets (made in 2008) would FINALLY be screening in Australia. I saw it advertised last year when it was shown in the UK, and I just couldn't believe we'd finally gotten it. I taped it when it was on but only just got around to watching it today. I sat down with a warm blanket and noodles determined to flood my brain with all things Austen.
Now, the story...
Miss Austen Regrets attempts to re-create the final years of Jane Austen's life, apparently using some of her letters and so on which survived. Jane Austen's life is, I think, both a disappointment and an excitement for movie-makers everywhere, simply for the fact that there's so infuriatingly little information about it. Of course, this means they're almost completely free to write whatever their hearts desire, and if Austen fans complain that it's hogwash, they can smugly reply, 'And how would you know?'
Miss Austen Regrets really plays up the flirtateous side of Jane Austen's reported nature. I found myself nodding along to a few famous lines; 'A large income is the best recipie for happiness...', for example. The Jane Austen in this film was very flirty, which made it seem strange that she'd never married as not only was she 'friendly' (wink wink) but the various men (including the young ones!) seemed genuinely interested.
And it seems there's been a craze for it lately, too; trying to give Jane Austen whirlwind romances which somehow justify her as a writer of romantic fiction and make all the romantic Austen fans in us sigh with hope for our own humdrum futures. Take Becoming Jane, for instance, a film which paints Tom Lefroy as the 'love of her life'. I remember when I watched that movie my eyebrows were raised so high they almost graced my hairline with their presence, and that was partly from the inconceivability of Anne Hathaway playing Jane Austen and partly for the pure wonder that is James Mc Avoy in Regency costume.
Miss Austen Regrets was not the most amazing of films; watching it you got a sense you were watching a slightly bleaker version of a Jane Austen novel, and this sort of prevented me from seeing it as anything but that. I wasn't convinced by Olivia William's performance. She wasn't bad, but she didn't convince me I was watching a chapter of Jane Austen's life. By the end of the movie I did, admittedly, find myself shedding a few tears, and I realised this was because over the course of the film, I had quickly given up the idea that I was watching Jane Austen, and instead settled for a nice period drama where I couldn't remember any of the character's names and everybody ended, not unhappily, but on a melancholy note.
On the whole, Miss Austen Regrets, as a film about an ageing woman and the regrets she has had throughout her life, as well as the choice between marriage and hard work/fame (apparently in her day the two were mutually exclusive. How dull) was not too bad. I ended up getting quite caught up in it but it took a long while to get into the film initially, perhaps because I approached it quite sceptically, having been disappointed by Jane Austen life stories in the past. In the end, all of the films on Austen's life are largely speculative, and I enjoyed watching this version of it.