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