Austen In The Movies: Lessons For All
Sometimes movies can be teacher’s tools. So at the start of the new school year, the following are two movies about Jane Austen to consider vis-à-vis the classroom:
Julian Jarrold’s Becoming Jane, which has been playing a while, is a nicely done British import about the young Austen starring the American actor Anne Hathaway with a finely tooled British accent. Taking the few facts known about the brief encounter between the novice novelist and a charming Irishman, Tom Lefroy (James McAvoy), the screenplay by Sarah Williams and Kevin Hood, creates a scenario that is almost identical to Pride and Prejudice and subsequent novels. In their script, Austen’s romance is doomed, within the strict mores of the era. The movie’s ending is particularly interesting as we catch up with Austen and Lefroy in their later years.
Featuring fantastic scenery (Ireland standing in for rural England), this romantic movie might get students interested in reading Austen and keeping their own diaries.
Less interesting, but still useful to teaching, The Jane Austen Book Club (opening September 21) is based on the famous Karen Jay Fowler novel of the same name. It features five women and one man who meet once a month to discuss the six works in the Austen canon. The notion in the book and Robin Swicord’s movie is this: There is very little in life today that can’t be found within Austen’s output. Could this idea inspire classroom study of Austen?
The story confronts mature problems suitable for students in high school or older. Set in contemporary California, it starts when good friends, Jocelyn (Maria Bello) and Bernadette (Kathy Baker) persuade Sylvia (Amy Brenneman) and her lesbian daughter, Allegra,(Maggie Grace) to organize an Austen book club to distract the long-married Sylvia from her recent divorce. Deciding to read one book a month, they add Prudie (Emily Blunt) still struggling with memories of a terrible mother, and a lone male Grigg (a miscast Hugh Dancy). Initially he irritates the women but, with wit and wisdom, he wins them over. Their meetings are more than literary discussions; they mirror the participants’ emotions and lives.
Austen, of course, was an assured story-teller, sharply creating characters we long to know about. Here, we follow the book club members for momentary delights. Still we might find guidance in Austen for our lives.