The Jane Austen Book Club film review
A film about people reading may sound to some like a film about watching people watch paint dry. The Jane Austen Book Club, adapted from the 2004 novel of the same name, however, is marginally more interesting than that.
Austen’s most famous six novels are discussed by six people, whose lives begin to parallel that of classic Austen characters. Six-time divorcée Bernadette takes on Pride and Prejudice, straitlaced teacher Prudie gets Persuasion, recently separated Sylvia tackles Mansfield Park, happily unmarried Jocelyn gets Emma, Sylvia’s lesbian daughter takes on Sense and Sensibility and fall guy Grigg gets Northanger Abbey.
An excellent set of books providing stalwart, ready-made content most people would agree. The six main characters of the film host a meeting for these novels. What disappoints is the lack of screen time given to these meetings. Potentially exciting discussion about Austen is given a backseat which certainly disables the film from gaining any serious depth.
The parallels between literary character and modern imitation are not gently woven throughout the film, rather the audience is forcefully presented with unequivocal and clichéd Austen characters without the depth. Jocelyn is Emma. She is painted as the lonely spinster at home with her dogs, playing matchmaker for Sylvia (did someone say Harriet?) and Grigg who she later realises she herself likes.
The audience is not allowed a moment to guess or work out anything independently. The plots and characters are laid out so clearly and obviously that little doubt is held throughout the film as to individual endings.
In Grigg, however, (played by a suitably chaotic Hugh Dancy), we are not presented with one obvious character but all the Austen men united; the dashing, the quirky and the befuddled. Dancy perfectly captures the perplexed confusion of an Austen man caught in the middle of an Austen women’s drama.
Kathy Baker’s Bernadette (Austen’s Mrs. Gardiner) is feisty and superbly matriarchal, Maggie Grace’s Allegra is both impetuous and compassionate (Austen’s Marianne Dashwood).
The acting chops are all there and Jane Austen has first class material waiting to be unravelled. The film’s fault is not to be found in the initial premise or indeed the acting but in the scriptwriting development between these two elements.
If you are looking for an in-depth, psychoanalytical character piece inspired by Austen, you are not going to find it. If though, you are in the mood for a predictable, American but also comforting and easy-watching film then it is worth a watch.
As Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times says, there are ‘no earth-shaking revelations’ though perhaps inspiring a few to pick up Sense and Sensibility is hardly a bad thing. It’s corny, idealistic and irritating but it also illustrates Austen’s universality, on-going popularity and relevance.
If nothing else, this film will make you want to set up your own Jane Austen book club. Well, what are you waiting for?
If you want to decide for yourself what you think of this film you can purchase the DVD on AMAZON
Featured image: Promotional poster for The Jane Austen Book Club.
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