Miss Austen Regrets is a welcome addition to the burgeoning Jane Austen film/TV industry. The use of Austen’s letters gave an authentic ring to this biopic. A couple of scenes had me raising an eyebrow. I am doubtful Austen was quite as free and easy in company as Olivia Williams’ portrayal; I was also uncomfortable with the budding ‘affair’ with Charles Haden.
But writer Gwyneth Hughes can be forgiven some deviations from the strict historical record for her portrayal of the power dynamics in the Austen family, especially Jane’s tense relationship with her mother. Greta Scacchi gives us a surprisingly sympathetic portrait of Cassandra, and I was pleased with Adrian Edmondson as Henry.
Olivia Williams plays a fragile Jane with a hint of steel. However, although we know from the letters that Jane enjoyed a drink, was she really the boozy flirt portrayed here?
Imogen Poots gives a convincing portrait of that spoilt little madam, Fanny Austen Knight. Jane loved Fanny; one can only be thankful she never knew about Fanny’s disparaging comments about her Aunt Jane and family in later life.
Cassandra’s ruthless, loving destruction of the most intimate of Jane’s letters means we will never really know the ‘real’ Jane Austen. We’re left to pick over the bones; a forensic recreation of her innermost feelings from the remaining letters, the novels, and anecdotes from friends and relations. This is probably what Jane herself would have wanted.
To sum up, Miss Austen Regrets is beautifully presented and enjoyable to watch. Providing one remembers it's one writer’s personal 'take' on Jane, rather than a documentary, it’s a good introduction to her life for those new to Austen and her work.
I defy any Austen fan not to be moved as Jane faces death, knowing she will never be able to write down all the characters and stories still waiting for her to bring them to life.