Director Julian Jarrold speculates on the encounter that inspired Jane Austen's most popular novels in Becoming Jane. If not entirely convincing, it makes for a "sprightly romance yarn" with praised performances by Anne Hathaway and leading man James McAvoy. Even so, it was hardly a blockbuster especially when compared to the recent Keira Knightley vehicle Pride & Prejudice.
It was the reinvention of Jane Austen as a "fresh, feisty, lively" heroine that excited Jarrold when he read the script. Writer Kevin Hood joins him to discuss the subtext in a behind-the-scenes featurette and, between takes, Hathaway and McAvoy lend their opinions as well. That's quite generous as far as the lead actress is concerned, because during the shoot she was also busy learning how to dance in the Regency style and play the piano. Complementing this 20 minute featurette are two reels of extra footage revealing the pains of shooting the carefully choreographed boxing and cricket scenes.
No less than 13 scenes landed on the cutting room floor. Among them, the relationship between Jane and her sister Cassandra (Anna Maxwell Martin) is fleshed out a little deeper and, for some light relief, there are more embarrassing attempts by Mr Wisley (Laurence Fox) to woo an unimpressed Jane. Her rebellion against mum (Brenda Blethyn) and dad (James Cromwell) is emphasised too with an extended version of Mr Austen's hilarious sermon about women knowing their place - "A profound mind is best kept secret..."
Hair and makeup design comes under the spotlight in another backstage featurette; Hathaway's costumes were all designed from scratch, while McAvoy had to make do with some second-hand frock coats. Still he cuts a dash on the dance floor in a brief, David Attenborough-style investigation of Regency Dance. Cast and crew explain why these scenes are so important - ie, because it offered men and women one of few chances to get up-close-and-personal in those days.
Kevin Hood and producer Robert Bernstein sit in with Jarrold for the feature commentary. Interestingly, Bernstein asks Hood how he responds to criticism that he might have overplayed the romance between Jane Austen and Tom Lefroy. The writer insists that Austen wouldn't have been able to write the books she had without some degree of experience in this area. (Of course without the affair the film would have been pretty pointless as well!) Jarrold chips in with the usual notes about casting, locations and the rules of 18th century cricket.
Tying up the package is a photomontage set to music from the film. It seems remiss not to include some tribute to, or biography of the real Jane Austen, but this DVD does present an intriguing glimpse of life and love in Regency England. It's best viewed with tea and scones - suitably light and fluffy.
Becoming Jane DVD is released on Monday 10th September 2007.