1. The very best historical fiction, to me, has no self-consciousness about being “back then”. The characters are not aware they are ye olde. The world is progressing into the future, beyond them. They are flawed individuals who live with the constraints of their time as we live with the constraints of ours.
Miss Austen Regrets – the fantastic biopic of the later years of Jane Austen’s life – achieves this. Jane is acerbic, self-contained, unlikable, passionate, loyal. She masters her own life to the extent that anyone can.
One of my favourite exchanges shows this beautifully. Jane is hungover and has just found out that her brother’s probably going to lose the house she, her sister and mother live in. A man she once loved is trying to speak sensibly to her, and she keeps replying with nonsense – witty one-liners. He says to her:
“You can hide behind your clever words as much as you like – ”
“Good,” she interjects, with no softness at all, “because my clever words will soon be the only thing putting a roof over my head. Or over my mother’s, or my sister’s. I am to be my own husband, it seems. And theirs.”
This is a masterful exchange. We feel warmly towards this ex-flame – and we know that Jane does too. We see how cutting she is, we agree with his assessment of her. But Jane doesn’t bow down to the sympathetic, or moral view. She is steadfast to herself.
I want to write heroines like this. With more than just a show of self-understanding, and self-worth.
2. It is a beautiful, moving exploration of what it meant for women to marry. And also of the companionship between women who didn’t, and the intimacy of those relationships.
3. The acting is superb. (Saying that always makes you sound like you think you know something about acting. I don’t, but the performances feel transparent and mesmerising and deeply human. A good thing, surely.)
I feel like I could never tire of watching Olivia Williams (Jane) and Imogen Poots (her niece, Fanny. Appearing as Blanche Ingram in the upcoming Jane Eyre – yippee!) particularly.
For those of you in Australia, it’s on iView at the moment.