No regrets watching Miss AustenPosted: 4 February 2008
I’ll admit right now that I have little knowledge of the biographical Jane Austen during the period covered in Miss Austen Regrets (mainly 1814-1816), but I do know of the letter burning performed by sister Cassandra after her death. I also admit not to have seen last year’s Becoming Jane, which, by all accounts, sensationalized certain aspects of Austen’s love life.
So, going in with no predispositions or expectations of any sort, I came away impressed with Miss Austen Regrets. It was well-written, well-directed, and well-acted. Well, it certainly was a refreshing change to the more predictable adaptations we’ve seen so far in Masterpiece‘s Austen season.
A big heap of commendation should go to Olivia Williams as Miss Austen: she certainly ran the gamut in this film, from the flirty to the morose. With that range and how Williams portrayed her, there is the possibility that Miss Austen was masking her inner turmoil from the “regret” with the bubbly personality that would otherwise seem natural. (I for one found it amusing Miss Austen writing to Cassandra about the social drinking and the hangover that results the next morning!) Now that I think about it some more, the Jekyll-and-Hyde persona of Miss Austen is almost mirrored in the film’s pace and mood (the lighting in particular seems to reflect this).
That second half, in which Miss Austen was more moody and combative, was far more interesting, not least for the dynamic between her and Cassandra. The scene in which she confides in Cass, unknown to either that niece Fanny was watching, was heartbreaking. The suggestion made in Regrets that Cassandra “persuaded” Miss Austen from breaking off at least one engagement evidently mirrors Lady Russell and Anne Elliot in Persuasion. I suspect screenwriter Gwyneth Hughes inserted other attributes of Miss Austen’s heroines and attributed them to the author herself. There could definitely be a whole film dedicated to the relationship between the Austen sisters; the plotline shown here probably is scratching the surface.
Miss Austen Regrets has much to recommend itself, and should be a highlight of Jane Austen City Limits. 9/10
Photo credit: PBS/Masterpiece