Maggie Judy Smith Dench:But it's the inimitable Anthony Lane, reviewing Becoming Jane for The New Yorker, who offers what I think is the most important criticism of the film:
Hello Austen! I am a cruel and haughty and one-dimensional snob, but I do lament that it is my misfortune to not be very funnym either. Miss Austen, there's a prettyish sort of wilderness over there.
Stop! I must take a moment to crib your writing in a cheap gesture towards my observational talent. [writes it down] Okay, done! Heave, bosom, heave.
the whole film, though dotted with passable jokes and packed—this being period drama—with long-gowned maidens hoofing about the dance floor, builds up to a climactic grief, with the middle-aged Lefroy encountering Austen and letting her know, through the moistness of his eyes and the graying of his whiskers, that he mourns What Might Have Been.And therein lies the fundamental fallacy of Becoming Jane, and of the 2005 Pride and Prejudice before it--the belief that Jane Austen wrote novels about romance and love, when in fact she was writing about marriage, and about the moral and practical considerations that go into making it. The endings of her novels are happy not simply because her heroines have found True Love but because they've been spared from spinsterhood and the poverty that would almost inevitably accompany it, and her stories are largely concerned with the question of where the right balance between sentiment and mercenary considerations lies--is Charlotte Lucas right, in other words, to accept Mr. Collins? If Becoming Jane were truly interested in depicting Austen's growth as an artist, it would show her coming to understand these hard truths, and realizing just how precarious her position as unmarried, female artist was.
For any Austen reader, this sadness will be hard to share. Lefroy rose to become Chief Justice of Ireland, and the idea that Jane might have married him, and spent her days organizing soirées for the legal profession instead of sitting peacefully at home writing about Emma Woodhouse, is dreadful to contemplate.
Which, for all I know, it does--but no one seems to have said so.