As we lurch deeper into July or whatever, two movie suggestions for you.
Both are period dramas.
Both star our literary superhero Jane Austen as the main character.
Each movie explores the life of this woman who lived more than 200 years ago yet whose six novels remain as modern and fresh as anything written this week.
One is superb, the other is OK mostly because James McAvoy is in it.
Movie No. 1: Miss Austen Regrets
This is one of the rare movies where the acting is so good that you think you’re watching real people.
Olivia Williams plays Jane Austen as a woman approaching 40, never married. The plot, such as it is, revolves around her helping her niece who wants more than anything to score an awesome Jane-Austen-novel-style husband. Love and marriage—two of the topics that Austen explores so exquisitely in her writing yet struggled with in her own life. Regrets? Now there’s a word that resonates through this film.
The cast here is truly brilliant. The screenplay by Gwyneth Hughes draws so heavily on Austen’s letters that Hughes declared she needed to give a writing credit to the author.
This 2008 film is streaming on Prime Video. Hats off to resident Austenologist Cristina Shiffman for the heads up on this heartbreaking, restrained movie.
Movie No. 2: Becoming Jane
Julian Jarrolds’s take on Jane Austen—the living, breathing woman—is the 2007 movie Becoming Jane. It’s fun. It’s not truly great, when compared to Miss Austen Regrets, but it does give us a window into that time when Jane Austen had a thing with a rakish young lawyer, Tom Lefroy.
Romantic trials and tribulations are the heart of this movie, and I’m not sure how close it hews to what happened. But hey, Anne Hathaway is credible if overcaffeinated (I don’t imagine Real Jane was like this), and James McAvoy is delicious. But not for a moment did I stop thinking of them as Anne Hathaway and James McAvoy pretending to be 19th-century people.
Did I mention that James McAvoy is in this movie?
Remember that my standards for period dramas hang to an embarrassingly large degree on how good the costumes are. These are some excellent costumes. Gonna belt up my athleisure to get an Empire-waist look going.
The Jane Austen Society of North America has more than 5,000 members. Their website is pretty much a free PhD in Austen studies.