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Coco Forsythe

Published April 13th, 2007 | by Coco Forsythe

The Jane Austen Book Club Review

Classification: 12 Director: Robin Swicord Rating: 3.5/5

The Jane Austen Book Club is what used to be known, in the golden age of Hollywood, as a ‘women’s picture’, and back then would have starred Bette Davis, Joan Crawford, Olivia DeHavilland and Joan Fontaine. But even this modern day equivalent is a pleasurable little treat.

The film opens with a montage of characters pitted against the speed of modern life – the heartless, soulless machines which, supposedly making life better for us, make it so much worse. Jocelyn (Bello) is in mourning – one of her champion ridgebacks has died. Her friends share her hour of grief, though some take it more seriously than others. Daniel Avila (Smits) scoffs; people need people, and he more than most as he informs his wife Sylvia (Brenneman) over dinner that he has been seeing another woman and is leaving her. Sylvia’s daughter and friends decide that she needs distracting; as fans of Jane Austen they decide to form a book group, dedicated to Austen’s works. Six members, six books, six months: the group includes Sylvia, Jocelyn, Sylvia’s daughter Allegra (Grace), Bernadette (Baker) and Prudie (Blunt), an unhappily married schoolteacher with a crush on one of her students (Zegers). Jocelyn happens to meet Grigg (Dancy), who she thinks may be just the thing to distract Sylvia from her misery, and invites him along.

And that’s really about it, plotwise. Characters fall for each other, and argue, and resist temptation, and talk about Jane Austen. They all resemble Austen characters in some way, or at least learn from her writings – it’s all sense, sensibility, pride, prejudice, and most of all persuasion. Jocelyn is Emma, matchmaking for others and failing to see love under her own nose; Allegra is Marianne Dashwood, always falling impetuously in love; Prudie has her very own embarrassing mother, like Elizabeth Bennet, and clearly has many many issues, not least of which is being married to the wretched Dean (Blucas), Riley from Buffy The Vampire Slayer, sporting a hideous rodent on his chin and upper lip.

Anyway, not a lot really happens, but it’s all rather lovely nevertheless. Because there isn’t much plot, for once there is time to actually develop the characters who behave implausibly and inconsistently and generally like real people. Jocelyn clearly likes Grigg, but because she has decided that he is for Sylvia – even though Sylvia isn’t interested and Grigg makes it clear how he feels about Jocelyn – she just seethes quietly instead of just asking him out (what is she thinking? He’s GORGEOUS!). When they finally get together over Ursula LeGuin, it feels completely right. (And how refreshing to have great sci-fi authors name-checked in a film about Jane Austen.) Kevin Zegers is, it has to be said, worth losing your job for.

Ahem! Sorry. Anyway, this is not a film that will change your life but it’s charming, funny and sweet, and just the sort of thing to curl up under a duvet with on a wet Sunday afternoon. And it’s a film that says that reading is the next best thing to sex. Words to live by.


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