TBT: Miss Austen Regrets (2008)

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Right around the time that Becoming Jane came out in theaters, the BBC released Miss Austen Regrets (2008), another attempt to biograph the elusive Jane Austen as she was in life. You may recall that I happen to really love Becoming Jane, despite its issues with historicity and some fairly weird costume choices that ran the gamut from 1790 to 1830, and the same can be said for Miss Austen Regrets to some degree. Straight out of the gate, the costuming in Miss Austen Regrets is better on the costume front (more on this in a bit), but while the reverential treatment of our subject in Becoming Jane went too far in one direction, Miss Austen Regrets goes a little too far in the other.

We are treated to a champagne swilling, snarky, overtly flirtatious Miss Austen (Olivia Williams), seen through the adoring eyes of her young niece, Fanny (Imogen Poots), who at one point even becomes a bit of romantic competition given Jane’s almost mercenary behavior when it comes to the opposite sex. It seems that the intent of the film was to make Jane something of an aging party girl in her late-30s, a woman who wouldn’t have raised much of an eyebrow if she had lived 200 years later, but who looks borderline ridiculous in staid and stilted Regency England. This Jane chafes at the restrictions her sex is expected to adhere to, but rather than slyly take down the establishment as the real Jane did in her writing, this Jane sweeps Fanny up in a fantasy world where rules do not apply to Miss Austen and, goddamn it, if she wants to get shit-faced drinking champagne in a fancy garden with her impressionable young niece, she’ll bloody well do it.

If I sound a little harsh in my assessment of Jane’s character in this film, it’s not to dissuade you from watching it. It’s actually a pretty decent film, marking out an engaging storyline, and taking the viewer on a nice little meandering trip into the imagination of scriptwriter Gwyneth Hughes (who later went on to write the acclaimed 2018 miniseries Vanity Fairas she muses about how Jane Austen should have been, not how she necessarily was. I think the real Miss Austen probably lies between the self-sacrificing romantic of Becoming Jane, and the dysfunctional iconoclast of Miss Austen Regrets. What the film does get right is the costuming, which of course we’re all here to discuss anyway, so enough of my blathering on about whether or not Jane Austen was essentially a proto-Carrie Bradshaw (or worse/better, a proto-Patsy Stone).

Really, what is a Jane Austen movie without the ubiquitous Little White Dress?

This is an innovative way to recycle a man’s Regency waistcoat. Her lapels are the pocket flaps.

The color palette is mostly beige, which is an interesting contrast to the saucy and conspiratorial Jane.

This denim color has been all the rage in Austen films for years, but all I can see when I look at this dress is this…

Phydilla Law as Jane’s mother, Cassandra Leigh Austen, reppin’ the Turkey red printed dress.

Hugh Bonneville, one of our favorites, plays Jane’s old flame Rev. Brook Bridges, who can’t decide if he’s still madly in love with her or severely disappointed in her.

While I am normally a fan of Tom Hiddleston, he and Imogen Poots were so cloyingly saccharine, I started to struggle with their scenes.

Yet another example of the modest dress linen jumper from the Warren Jeffs Sister Wives collection, circa 1990.

I will not lie, this is basically me at every historical reenactment I go to. At some point, I will run off with a bottle of champagne and a girlfriend or two and spend the rest of the night lurking in the shadows, swilling from the bottle, and getting up to all sorts of no good.

 

How did you feel about Miss Austen Regrets? Share your thoughts with us in the comments!

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About the author

Sarah Lorraine

Website

Sarah discovered her dual passion for history and costume right around the age of twelve. Dragged kicking and screaming to her first Renaissance Faire at Black Point, she was convinced she was going to hate it, but to her surprise, she fell head over heels in love with the world of reenactment and dress up immediately. Her undergraduate degree is in Clothing & Textile Design, and she has a Master's in Art History and Visual Culture. When she’s not hauling crap to SCA events and ren faires, Sarah enjoys reading true crime books, writing fiction, and sewing historical clothing from the Middle Ages through the 20th-century. One of these days, she might even start updating her old costuming blog again.

15 Responses

  1. Damnitz

    As a man I thought the film was too boring to me, although what could you expect? Olivia Williams still is a great actress and I think that she is witty enough to portray Jane Austen. Costumes were mostly boring and you can not make me to look the film again.

    Reply
      • Nzie

        that one made me nervous—my parents used to live near a great Talbots outlet so actually a good part of my wardrobe is from them, but every dress and skirt shows plenty of calf and ankle so I guess I’m ok. :-)

        Reply
  2. LisaS

    That particular blue color one associates with denim and Austin films would be achieved by dying with Indigo. Really ubiquitous .

    Reply
  3. Roxana

    Oh my.
    We know Miss Austen liked wine because she wrote how pleasant it was to be able to drink as much as she wanted at parties after she turned thirty.
    We know she was deliciously witty and snarky from her novels and her letters.
    But overtly flirtatious? Openly violating good form and good manners? I don’t believe that for a minute. Any flirting Miss Jane Austen did would be subtle, deliciously witty and never overstep propriety in any way. And be thoroughly appreciated by the lucky man.

    Reply
  4. Kathleen Julie Norvell

    I was bored with the film, but I’m having flashbacks over that Turkey red paisley dress because I made one almost identical to it, down to the removable lower sleeves BEFORE I ever saw the movie.

    Reply
  5. CatnipTARDIS

    I had the privilege of seeing some of the costumes in 2008 in Bath. While they didn’t have the blue dress on display, they had the red one that’s clearly the exact same dress in a different color (as shown in the photos above with Hugh Bonneville and in the meadow). If the two dresses were different dyes of the same fabric, it’s a silk basketweave. The film unfortunately did not do a great job of picking up the lovely satiny lustre that gave the fabric a subtle sheen.

    Reply
  6. Roxana

    BTW, by the conventions of the day Cassandra would have been ‘Miss Austen’, Jane would have been Miss Jane Austen always as the younger sister.

    Reply

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