Miss Austen Regrets (2007) Movie — A Review

From the desk of Laurel Ann Nattress:

What do we know about Jane Austen’s love life? Very little. The information that survives is found in her personal letters and from family recollections. Apart from the one proposal by Harris Bigg-Wither, no other known romances or love affairs were documented. For someone who wrote so perceptively about love and romance, it stands to reason that she must have experienced a grand passion herself. This is an intriguing notion to fans, writers, and filmmakers. In Miss Austen Regrets screenwriter Gwyneth Hughes (Vanity Fair) bravely portrays the latter years of the famous literary figure as she reflects upon her romantic encounters, and life choices.  

A Spurned Offer of Marriage

The story opens with Miss Austen’s favorite theme, marriage. However, this is not a scene in one of her novels, but the reality of her own life. In 1802 Jane (Olivia Williams) hastily accepts a marriage proposal from wealthy Harris Bigg-Wither (Samuel Roukin). After an uneasy night of reflection with her sister Cassandra (Greta Scacchi), she breaks the engagement and quickly departs for home. If she had married Mr. Bigg-Wither it would have meant financial security for her and her family. Jane stands behind her principles to only marry for love even though the consequences of her actions are not welcomed by her parents, or by society. Her departing statement to herself, “Dear God let me never regret this day.” This lament will echo throughout the film.

Agony Aunt Jane

Thirteen years later, maiden Aunt Jane is advising her niece Fanny Austen Knight (Imogen Poots), daughter of her elder brother Edward Austen Knight, on courtship and marriage. Fanny has a possible suitor in mind, a young and pious John Plumtre (Tom Hiddleston). She wants her aunt’s advice. Here we are presented with the resounding question that Austen’s remarkable heroines face: should one only marry for love? Jane thinks so and firmly warns her niece:

Fanny, do anything but marry without affection.”

Addressing Fanny’s questions regarding love presents Jane with the reality of her own unmarried status. She is now forty, not a young girl, but not quite out of the marriage market. We see her at a family evening meeting Mr. Washington, a flattering admirer. Instinctively, the young girl in Jane kicks in as she thoroughly enjoys the evening of dancing, drinking, and flirting.

Flipping the Male Power Axis

Soon after, my favorite scene in the movie places Fanny and Jane outside of the manor house frolicking around the gardens at night and peering in a window at the gentlemen playing cards. Their conversation humorously analyses the marriageability of each of the men according to their wealth or physical charms, flipping the male power axis that women experience themselves. When they are discovered by Rev. Brooke Bridges (Hugh Bonneville), Fanny’s uncle and a former flirtation of Jane’s, she explains that her aunt was offering her moral guidance.

In the shrubbery?” asks Rev. Bridges. Jane replies, “As good a place as any for leading a young lady astray”! 

Wit as a Guardian Against Her Feelings

At this point in the movie the framework has been established by the screenwriter Gwyneth Hughes and director Jeremy Lovering. The loves or flirtations of Jane Austen’s life – Mr. Lefroy, Mr. Bigg-Wither, Rev. Papillon, Rev. Bridges, and Dr. Haden – all come and go adding insight, amusement, and a whiff of romance, but hardly developing into love affairs. The reasons for Jane’s unattached status are multilayered. In her usual witty fashion, guarding against her feelings, Jane makes a joke about it to her niece.

Fanny, you have at last uncovered the true reason why I never chose a husband. I never found one worth giving up flirting for.”

Inspired Casting

Actress Olivia Williams shines in this difficult role. She makes Austen real, lively, sharp as tack, and as funny as one of her finest heroines, not that dour spinster envisioned in 19th century portraits. Huzzah! Imogen Poots shows great promise as young Fanny Austen Knight by deftly relaying her energy and edginess. Greta Scacchi as Cassandra Austen looks much older than the two years that spanned Jane and her sister’s ages. Her part is small, and her talent not applied to much beyond allowing us to really dislike her for burning her sister’s letters.

Two Suitors and One Horrid Mother

The two standout performances of Miss Austen’s suitors were Hugh Bonneville as Rev. Bridges, He is the most interesting of Jane’s lost loves played with sensitivity and reserved pathos. Jack Huston as the charming and smooth Dr. Charles Haden lights up the screen, and Jane’s interest. Phyllida Law as Mrs. Austen plays the disapproving mother so sourly that one is relieved not to live in her household.

Writing Instead of Marrying Without Love

I admire how the story succeeds in interweaving moments that parallel scenes or lines from Austen’s novels, or is it scenes or lines from her life that make it into her novels? Art imitating life, and it is believable. We see Jane represented honestly and with integrity as a strong woman who decided to write instead of marrying without love. Her choices would be against the norms of society, disappointing her family, and adding pressure and financial stress in her life. We feel her pain and understand her proclivity to enjoy a bit too much wine. In the end, she is resolved that she has lived the life that God chose for her. When she dies, tragically at age forty-one, we feel the incredible loss of a dear daughter, sister, aunt, and friend whose ultimate writing potential will never be known.

5 out of 5 Stars


MOVIE INFORMATION

  • Miss Austen Regrets (2007)
  • Studio: BBC
  • Director: Jeremy Lovering
  • Screenplay: Gwyneth Hughes
  • Cast: Olivia Williams, Imogene Poots, Greta Scacchi, Hugh Bonneville, and Tom Hiddleston
  • Length: 1 hour and 30 minutes

ADDITIONAL INFO | ADD TO IMDb

We viewed this movie on Amazon video with our subscription to BritBox. Austenprose is an Amazon affiliate. Images courtesy of BBC & PBS © 2007; text Laurel Ann Nattress © 2022, austenprose.com.


Hello Dear Readers,

Have you seen Miss Austen Regrets or other biopics of Jane Austen’s life? What do you think?

If you enjoy dramatic historical stories that entertain and enlighten, Austenprose highly recommends Miss Austen Regrets.

Drop us a line below and share your thoughts on this review and what you are currently viewing! We would love to hear from you!

Laurel Ann Nattress, editor

13 thoughts on “Miss Austen Regrets (2007) Movie — A Review

Add yours

  1. I agree wholeheartedly, this is a lovely speculative piece that brought all the characters to life. It was painful at one point to see everyone turning on Jane (based on a culmination of personal and financial motives) and she bore it far better than I thought possible. There was a real fragility of life that people seemed to take in stride then, despite death or ruin lurking at every turn. Perhaps that is why this is one of my go-to movies—one that bolsters my resolve in wobbly moments.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. It’s been a few years since I last saw it (maybe time for a re-viewing!), but I know it was well done, just as you say. Of course for those of us addicted to happy endings, this doesn’t quite qualify, It left me feeling very sad. The film makers naturally felt constrained to stick close to the facts of JA’s life (whereas you know I don’t subscribe to that rule!), and we want more and better for our dear Jane! ;)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Since this is a biopic they had no choice but to show the real events in her life. It is sad that she died so young, but she did get to live the life she chose and we got her novels because of it. The only way to give her a happy ending would be to re-imagine her life like you did in The Persuasion of Miss Jane Austen. While I would love to see your story made into a movie, I do not think that the producers had that kind of parallel universe story in mind here. I still appreciated many aspects of this film and also value your Austen-inspired writing, so there is room for it all.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. BritBox is very addictive to this period drama fan, Laurie. They have an amazing selection of BBC & ITV shows, including a lot of Austen adaptations. Miss Austen Regrets is a very melancholy tale, however, this is moving and worthy of a revisit if you saw it when it originally aired in 2008 in the US. It captured Austen’s sarcastic wit beautifully.

      Liked by 1 person

Please join in and have your share of the conversation!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Website Built with WordPress.com.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: