In 2003, biographer Jon Spence stirred the literary world and Austen fans everywhere with revelations that the cherished authoress and spinster Jane Austen had actually experienced the romance and excitement of love, of which she is celebrated for writing about. It was a little known fact, and although referenced and acknowledged in most Austen biographies, Jon Spence researched the facts and his suspicions and theories further and marshalled the evidence as part of his enlightening biography, "Becoming Jane Austen". His biography challenged the long-held view that Jane Austen and Tom Lefroy never met again after his visit to Hampshire during the Christmas holiday of 1795. It also concluded that "their relationship was serious and more enduring than the brief flirtation that previous biographers had assumed."
This romantic encounter had fascinated writer Sarah Williams and she approached Douglas Rae and Robert Bernstein of Ecosse Films. She had read how, at the age of 20, Jane Austen met with a young Irishman called Tom Lefroy. That meeting was to blossom into a romance, the significance of which had been downplayed for over two centuries. Ecosse Films was immediately engaged. "This was a pivotal relationship in Jane Austen's early life that was largely unknown to the public," says Robert Bernstein. "This relationship transformed her life and we felt that the film could be a companion piece to MRS BROWN, (an earlier Ecosse film that chronicled a similar true life friendship in Queen Victoria's life). The thing about Jane Austen is that beneath her strict exterior she had a beating heart which was awoken by this relationship and through that she became arguably the greatest female novelist that ever lived."
Jon Spence, was hired as a historical consultant on the film and brought his wealth of learning and detective work to BECOMING JANE. "My role was to see that, given that the 'story' is a work of imagination, the factual material was as accurate as possible within the limitations of the story."
The actual facts of the story, according to Jon Spence, are as follows:
(i) Jane Austen met Tom Lefroy when he visited his aunt and uncle in Hampshire at Christmas 1795 when they were both 20.
(ii) JA visited London briefly in August 1796 and there is strong evidence that she stayed at the house of Tom's uncle, where Tom himself was living.
(iii) Tom returned to Ireland to practice law in late 1798, married the sister of a school friend, and named his first daughter Jane.
Rae and Bernstein commissioned Williams to write a screenplay. In 2004, after a couple of drafts were completed, Kevin Hood, who had previously written MAN AND BOY, was hired by Ecosse Films. "Kevin has a romantic sensibility," says Bernstein. "There is a poetic quality about his writing as well as there being a rigorous emotional truth which I thought was important for Jane."
Kevin Hood was intrigued by the premise. "I was attracted to the project because the story is such an important one and very much the inspiration for Pride and Prejudice," says Hood. "People forget what a genius Jane Austen was, one of the top two or three prose writers of all time and her relationship with Tom Lefroy was absolutely essential in shaping her work. Some believe she would not have become the writer she was if it had not been for this relationship. The period of life before marriage was what she always wrote about; it was a subject of perpetual interest to her. She also returned again and again to the figure of the attractive unreliable young man - this was arguably based on her personal experience."
"The film is based on the facts as they are known and the majority of characters did exist, as did many of the situations and circumstances in the film", says Kevin Hood. "Some have been fictionalised, weaving together what we know about Austen's world from her books and letters, creating a rich Austenite landscape."
The third member of the production team, Graham Broadbent of BluePrint Pictures became attached in March 2004. He was immediately impressed by the unusual perspective of the script. "There were, for me, some startling and brilliant facts when I first read the script," he says. "The first one was that Jane Austen was not a dusty old spinster, she was once a twenty-year-old girl who had a love affair which didn't proceed further for societal reasons and other pressures of the time. What the writer Kevin Hood has done is to take the true incident of that love and put around it Jane's family and her experiences and then set it all against the Austen landscape."
In early 2005 Julian Jarrold was hired by Ecosse Films to direct the film. "I liked his style as it was modern and visceral, and I just had a feeling that he was the right choice," says Robert Bernstein. "This piece needed to be handed with delicacy but also with a certain amount of brio and Julian was able to bring those two things to the production."
Julian Jarrold made his feature film directorial debut with KINKY BOOTS (2005). He has worked in the UK television industry for more than 10 years and has directed some of the UK's most prominent and successful British TV drama series and mini-series in that period. In 1994 Julian directed a BAFTA winning episode of the acclaimed ITV drama series CRACKER ('THE BIG CRUNCH'), which he followed up with the two hour film for Granada, SOME KIND OF LIFE which was nominated for a BAFTA. Working with the BBC Julian also directed the Emmy-nominated miniseries GREAT EXPECTATIONS starring Ioan Gruffudd and Charlotte Rampling and ALL THE KING'S MEN starring David Jason and Maggie Smith. Over the last few years Julian has worked with some of the UK's most talented young actors including John Simm in the BAFTA nominated, feature length dramas, NEVER, NEVER and CRIME AND PUNISHMENT and Andrew Lincoln in THE CANTERBURY TALES: MAN OF LAW for the BBC. Prior to KINKY BOOTS Julian also directed Channel 4's critically acclaimed adaptation of the Zadie Smith best selling novel, WHITE TEETH, starring Om Puri and Phil Davis.
Jarrold completed KINKY BOOTS before returning to BECOMING JANE at the beginning of 2006. Although already familiar with the Austen world, he reread Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility and Persuasion. He also consulted a number of Jane Austen biographies, particularly Jon Spence's Becoming Jane Austen. But the bible remained Kevin Hood's screenplay: a work that tells a tale from Austen's real life with many witty allusions to her fictional work.
"I thought it was a rich, witty and clever screenplay from someone who obviously knew his subject very well," he says. "It is a love story but much more besides. Kevin's screenplay has so many layers and interesting ideas. Apart from the love story I was very attracted by the themes of imagination and experience."
"The story of Jane's romance with Tom Lefroy was fresh and surprising. It also offered a fascinating insight into her life and was probably an experience that helped form her as a great artist. I thought the screenplay was interesting because it focused on Jane as a young woman full of exuberance and life and is a thoughtful and imaginative response to her life and work. I was also very attracted to the more provocative scenes that don't normally appear in an Austen film. We see the more risqué side of regency life in London at Gentleman Jackson's, the boxing, the cricket and the country fair. These are scenes that Jane Austen was aware of but never wrote about."
Even so the filmmaker was somewhat daunted by the subject matter: aware of how proprietorial people can be of the beloved author. "Everyone has their own treasured image of Jane Austen," says Jarrold. "The usual image is of a middle-aged spinster; a little prim and obsessed with manners and propriety. This is a very narrow and partial image and not borne out by the known facts. In fact, despite the huge numbers of biographies, we know little about Jane Austen's life. Her letters are an important source of information. Unfortunately many have not survived. Cassandra took particular care to destroy personal family material and her first letter about her "flirtation" with Tom Lefroy probably survived only by mistake. With this film I wanted to see Jane portrayed as a real person of flesh and blood and not as a museum piece. "
Jarrold evokes the words of another great writer to explain the predicament of working on a period drama. "Henry James wrote that we are divided between liking to feel the past strange and liking to feel it familiar," he says. "Filming period drama one is always beset with this conflict in terms of acting style and behaviour, props, costumes, script details and style of filming etc. We all tried to make the film in as "truthful" and "real" a manner as possible and hope that we got the balance right."
BECOMING JANE is a classic love story with Jane Austen herself in the centre of the frame. It detonates the common perception of the famous author as a dowdy maid toiling away in a lonely room: this is a young woman in love with life and its possibilities and potential. It puts Jane Austen in a real time and a real place, familiar to us from the writer's novels. We meet her parents, her family and her friends. "I hope BECOMING JANE works as a fresh and interesting take on the world of Jane Austen," says Julian Jarrold. "I hope the poignancy between the happiness she allows her heroines and the reality of her life resonates with people. I hope it brings even more people to her books and reveals another side to an author, who is seen by some as being remote, a bit prim and obsessed with propriety."
BECOMING JANE was filmed on location in Ireland, in the counties of Wicklow, Dublin and Meath, from March to May 2006.
JANE AUSTEN - A BIOGRAPHY
By Jon Spence, author of biography "Becoming Jane Austen"
Jane Austen was the seventh of the eight children of the Revd George Austen and his wife Cassandra Leigh. She was born on 16 December 1775 at Steventon parsonage in Hampshire where she spent the first twenty-five years of her life. Her formal education ended when she left the Abbey School in Reading after a year and a half, just before her eleventh birthday. At about this time she started to write what her father described as 'Tales in a Style entirely new'. When she was eighteen or nineteen she wrote her first novel, Elinor and Marianne. Then she fell in love.
Jane met Tom Lefroy in Hampshire during the Christmas holidays of 1795. In mid-January, he went to London to begin studying law. Jane saw him again in London in August, but nothing more is known of their relationship until a sign in the autumn of 1798 that the romance had come to nothing. (Jane's only sister burned many of Jane's letters, and none survive between 18 September 1796 and October 1798.) These two years had been among the most fruitful of Jane's life. After returning from London, she wrote Pride and Prejudice, then rewrote Elinor and Marianne as Sense and Sensibility, and finally Northanger Abbey, which she completed in 1799. She did not write another novel for more than ten years.
Her disappointment in romance might have been in part the cause of her silence, but an even more devastating event was her family's leaving Steventon in 1801, when her father retired, to live in Bath, a place Jane hated. In December 1802 a rich young man proposed to Jane and she accepted; the next day, however, she withdrew her acceptance. A few months later she sold Northanger Abbey to a publisher for £10 but waited in vain for the book to come out.
Her father died in 1805, and the next year Jane and her mother and sister moved to Southampton where they remained until the summer of 1809 when they went to live in Chawton, the Hampshire village from which Jane Austen at last launched her career as a novelist. Sense and Sensibility was published in 1811; Pride and Prejudice in 1813. Mansfield Park, written after she settled at Chawton, was published in 1814, and Emma in 1815. She completed Persuasion about a year before her death from Addison's Disease on 18 July 1817. Persuasion and Northanger Abbey were published posthumously.
SCREENWRITER KEVIN HOOD
Kevin Hood's first work for TV was writing for the popular BBC school drama, GRANGE HILL. He penned the black comedy WORK!, starring Jim Broadbent as an unemployed estate agent forced into very alternative employment, which was originally shown in 1991. At that stage Kevin Hood was already a successfully playwright and his work to date includes BEACHED (1987), ASTRONOMER'S GARDEN (1988), SUGAR HILL BLUES (1990), HAMMETT'S APPRENTICE (1993) and SO SPECIAL (1998). He wrote four episodes of the TV series MEDICS and co-devised the award-winning crime drama, SILENT WITNESS (he wrote four episodes of the show including the very first one). His extensive TV CV also includes a number of episodes of EASTENDERS, the thriller THE ECHO (1998) starring Clive Owen, the epic period drama IN A LAND OF PLENTY (2001) starring Robert Pugh and the adaptation of Tony Parsons' best-selling book, MAN AND BOY (2002) starring Ioan Gruffudd.
THE CAST AND THEIR CHARACTERS
THE DESIGN: BRINGING THE WORLD OF JANE AUSTEN TO LIFE
RETURN TO HOMEPAGE