First off, I have to say that when I first bought this film (it had a Feb 2008 dvd release) I hated it. But since, I have watched it numerous times, and find it better and better with each viewing.
This semi-biography (I think the proper term would be Historical Fiction) mixes Jane Austen's early works to express her growth. I thought the casting was just perfect, I do not believe there is another young actress who could have carried the weight of this film, and Maggie Smith as her rival in society was one of the smartest casting moves in years.
The opening scene which shows Jane writing about "propriety" intercut with her parents in bed, breaks through the stale viewpoint we have been trained to expect with adaptions of her works. We are then reminded of Jane Austen herself as being a witty and independent woman with the scene of her enticing Mr. Wesley to join them at the ball. So often her sarcastic side is downplayed painting her a total saint. The introduction of Mr. LeFroy both echos Jane and balances her. He is a weighty character that lives by society's rules while at the same time keeping his own individuality. Both their "father figures" (LeFroy's case his uncle) find them to be too wild for their stations and try to rope them in so to speak. The use of scenes taken out of her novels are good for plot connections but were alittle on the predictable side. I felt when they are in the woods and bump into each other and end up in a verbal sparing is perfect in it's comedic timing and you tend to loose yourself in this scene, as it truly is where the story starts. Pride and Prejudice is the one novel referenced over and over again in this film. The undercurrent of the film is true love, both in it's physical form (the romance with Jane/LeFroy) and the spiritual/emotional one that is expressed through words. Books and writing is where we find Jane being challenged, seduced and hiding. From her disapproval of the book LeFroy offers her to the reading she does at the end of the film. The confrontation between Jane and her cousin the Countess leaves you wondering if the Countess disapproves of LeFroy because of his supposed influence on Henry (Jane's brother) or because he represents something the Countess had taken from her when her husband was killed. When the group of four -Jane, Henry, Countess, LeFroy- go to visit LeFroy's uncle, I was feeling that should be the end of the film, but infact it's the first real sign of a conflict in the movie. The scene then when Jane meets her hero a sense of sadness and even madness over takes you as she sees for the first time the shadowside of herself. Isolation, loneliness and disregard. Until the death of Cassandra's beloved the famed relationship between the two sisters is downplayed, but given the news of LeFroy's intended marriage at this point in the plot adds to the feeling of dread (like a double death). The accepting of Mr. Wesley's marriage proposal is given off to be then more for the sake of her sister then for herself. Not too mention when she discovers the real reason for LeFroy being so money minded you feel a great loss for Jane. This movie has a surprising villain in the character of Mr. Warren , whom has maybe 4 scenes in the entire film and is quite forgettable till the end when he helps sew up some earlier plotlines.
The beauty of this film lays in it's independence and desire for freedom which colours all the love stories played out in it. With little to go on from reality of Jane Austen's life, this fleshes out beautifully.