The Jane Austen Book Club

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After Jocelyn (Bello) loses her dog and Sylvia (Brenneman) loses her straying husband, Bernadette (Baker) cheers them up with parties discussing Jane Austen’s novels. With only five gal pals, they invite stranger Grigg (Dancy) to join in. Austenesque roma


Having exhausted (again) the entire life’s work of Jane Austen on
TV and the big screen in recent years, producers are emulating the James Bond franchise and developing their own variations on the author’s plots before they dare have another go at Sense And Sensibility. Hence Becoming Jane, in which Austen’s own life was re-written as a Pride And Prejudice lookalike, and this adaptation of Karen Joy Fowler’s popular novel of contemporary Californians, whose lives mirror the human behaviour observed 200 years ago by Miss Austen.

Veteran screenwriter Robin Swicord is nothing if not girlie-oriented, with the scripts for Little Women and Memoirs Of A Geisha to her name. For her conventional but comfy directorial debut there could scarcely be material more suitable. You can’t quarrel with the casting either, which is not a starry, but a strong, female ensemble. Baker relishes the first, belated, sassy role of her film career as the long-married, life-embracing Bernadette and Maggie Grace is much better as bereft Sylvia’s feisty lesbian daughter Allegra than she was as Lost’s late, unlamented Shannon. But Emily Blunt steals the show, wonderful as bookish and buttoned-up Persuasion lover Prudie.

Events are structured around the monthly Chablis-sipping get-togethers, and despite Bernadette’s proposition that Jane Austen is “the perfect antidote to life”, it becomes apparent that Jane Austen is life, just interpreted very differently - with some flashes of wit, insight and charm - as the characters’ range of quirks and prejudices manifest.

As was the case in Evening, Dancy lights up the goings-on as the rooster in the hen house, an enigmatic character who manages to be gentlemanly in cycling shorts, whose affections are amusingly misread in control freak Jocelyn’s match-making miscalculations (’cause she’s the Emma figure, geddit?). But a note to Hugh’s agent: the man needs to get into some kind of action movie, before he becomes just the go-to guy when producers with the rights
to the latest bestseller with chick flick potential want some soulful eye candy.

Quite a nice little relationship comedy-drama, but essentially for an audience of what the French charmingly call ‘women of a certain age’. Totally not the Superbad set, then.