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BECOMING JANE – Adrian Johnston

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

With the likes of Pride & Prejudice and Sense & Sensibility being such popular works of both the written and visual media, it was only a matter of time before someone made a screen biography of their author, the erstwhile Jane Austen. Julian Jarrold’s film Becoming Jane is just such a film; American star Anne Hathaway adopts an English actress to play the pre-fame author, growing up in 18th century Hampshire, and falling in love with a handsome Irishman named Tom Lefroy (James McAvoy); Jane’s encounters with him, and her dalliances with the societal niceties of the day seek to shape her literary style and her outlook on life.

The film, which also features Julie Walters, James Cromwell, Maggie Smith and Ian Richardson in supporting roles, has an original score by English composer Adrian Johnston, who remains best known for his work on several British TV Masterpiece Theater productions, as well as feature films such as Jude and Kinky Boots. Like Patrick Doyle and Dario Marianelli before him, Johnston scores the romance inherent in Austen’s life and work, resulting in a score which swoons with passion, but retains that unmistakable air of polite Englishness that so typifies films of this kind.

Solo piano, solo violin, soft strings, and verdant woodwinds are the order of the day, illustrating the romantic flights of fancy to which Austen was prone, but also capturing the essence of Austen’s own trials and tribulations as a forward-thinking woman in an age when such women were rare. Cues such as “A Game of Cricket” are lively and effervescent, while others, such as “To the Ball”, “Goodbye, Mr Lefroy”, “Distant Lives”, “An Adoring Heart”, “The Loss of Yours” and “To Be Apart”, and have a kind of sad, longing quality to them, especially when Anthony Pleeth’s mesmerizing cello solos kick in.

There’s a faint Irish lilt to be found in cues such as “Selbourne Wood”, likely to subtly acknowledge Austen’s suitor’s heritage; this gives way to the utterly gorgeous “Rose Garden”, the score’s thematic and romantic high point, a true delight. Elsewhere, “Bond Street Airs” has a flurry of Elgar-style pomp and panache about it, while “The Basingstoke Assembly” and “Laverton Fair” are authentic-sounding period dances to which one can imagine people strutting at a manor house ball.

Comparisons between Johnston’s work here and Dario Marianelli’s Oscar-nominated score for Pride & Prejudice are unavoidable, and in truth the two have very much in common, both in terms of sound and style – which is certainly not a bad thing. This is an accomplished and enjoyable work, and anyone who felt an affinity for any of the lush and languid scores mentioned in this review will certainly find plenty of equally appealing music here.

Rating: ****

Track Listing:

  • First Impressions (2:25)
  • Hampshire (0:40)
  • Bond Street Airs (1:48)
  • The Basingstoke Assembly (2:03)
  • A Game of Cricket (2:47)
  • Selbourne Wood (2:29)
  • Lady Gresham (2:10)
  • Advice From A Young Lady (1:06)
  • Laverton Fair (0:58)
  • To The Ball (3:17)
  • Rose Garden (2:31)
  • Mrs. Radcliffe (2:24)
  • Goodbye, Mr. Lefroy (1:48)
  • Distant Lives (2:57)
  • The Messenger (1:22)
  • An Adoring Heart (1:21)
  • Runaways (2:01)
  • A Letter (1:50)
  • The Loss of Yours (1:05)
  • To Be Apart (2:33)
  • Deh Vieni Non Tardar (from “Le Nozze di Figaro” by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart) (3:25)
  • Twenty Years Later (1:21)
  • A Last Reading (2:39)

Running Time: 47 minutes 00 seconds

Sony Classical SK-710429 (2007)

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