Lovers of Jane Austen may wish to look away from the newspaper during the following sentence, or even pop into an adjoining room and strum out a lively air on the spinet. This speculative biopic of Jane Austen’s love life features a scene in which the author’s father, the Rev Mr Henry Austen, snuggles down to perform an act of oral love upon his lady wife, Jane’s mother. Played by Julie Walters. With the cares of so many children, it was perhaps the only intimacy he considered prudent. This moment is enough to give you an attack of the vapours, as is the icky superciliousness of that pun in the title. There is a persistent undertow of tweeness that never entirely goes away: it is a picture whose mannerisms have been learned from other Austen adaptations – but learned assiduously and effectively.Anne “The Devil Wears Prada” Hathaway plays the lead, and although she’s far too pretty in the role, isn’t half bad, and the whole thing does not have the unremitting naffness of the recent Beatrix Potter extravaganza, starring the nose-wrinkling Renée Zellweger. The movie wistfully amplifies Austen’s real-life flirting with the young Irish lawyer Tom Lefroy into a fully-fledged secret romance, complete with marriage plans. Lefroy is played by James McAvoy, coiffed and kitted out like a classic Regency buck – and in fact is made to look a little like the portraits of the young Prince Regent. McAvoy’s Tom meets-cute with Jane: the arrogant metropolitan gadabout sneers at Jane’s country ways and ingenuous prose, before falling for her. It’s not a bad performance, and he has a nice rapport with Hathaway, whose accent is more or less in position. James Cromwell plays Jane’s father as Prince Philip Lite.
The very idea of Jane Austen with a broken heart may be thought vulgar and pedantic by her modern readers, and the way the story pans out is not convincing. But it’s amiably intended. Perhaps the time has come for Anne Hathaway to bow to destiny and play the wife of England’s greatest poet.[The Guardian]