Whenever a new Jane Austen tale is filmed, I'm there. Ang Lee's Sense & Sensibility is my favourite - Joe Wright's Pride & Prejuduce and Patricia Rozema's Mansfield Park also. The most intriguing thing for me about setting out to see this film for the first time was that it wasn't an Austen tale, it was a tale about Austen. The story is inspired by a true-life flirtation between budding writer Jane (Anne Hathaway) and young law student Tom Lefroy (James McAvoy) and the effect it has on Jane's (and Tom's) life and writing. The film treats the relationship, perhaps, more seriously than the real relationship between Jane and Tom (as documented in Jon Spence's "Becoming Jane Austen" which pieces together Jane's life through historic correspondence and accounts by her ancestors) but since her sister, Cassandra, destroyed stacks of letters written by Jane, the depth of her feelings towards Tom will never fully be known.
This film does not have the lush cinematography of Ang Lee's Sense & Sensibility but it has a slight rawness that lends to the atmosphere of the time and the poverty that the Austen family were challenged with. The performances by James Cromwell, Julie Walters, Maggie Smith and Ian Richardson give this film a solid foundation. Anne Hathaway's performance pleasantly surprised me. She has been critized for her English accent but I think she portrayed a very spirited, smart, and passionate Jane. You can clearly tell Anne's heart was in this role. James McAvoy is superb as Tom Lefroy. He's charming, impish, thoughtful, funny and, well, very easy on the eyes. He's one of my favourite actors and definately one to watch for in the future.
I highly recommend this film. It's charming, romantic, funny, and heartbreaking. I gave it four stars only because I would give S&S five stars.