“Jane Eyre” (2011) on Film.
What could any filmmaker still possibly have to say about Jane, Rochester, Mrs. Fairfax, Adele, St. John, Blanche, or any of the characters or themes already so incredibly analyzed?
Several things, it turns out.
I read somewhere that this new 2011 film version of “Jane Eyre” was called “A Jane Eyre for a New Generation,” and I think it’s true. Charlotte Bronte’s novel is my all-time favorite book, but it’s a bit of a beast. It’s long, full of passages where the heroine thinks too much, and details an entire life – which can be a lot to fit in a cohesive movie. In this film, directed with a loving hand by Cary Fukunaga, things are trimmed neatly and streamlined in a way that will make it appealing to those without endless Masterpiece Theatre length attention spans. As far as I’m concerned, this is a good thing. Maybe the movie will inspire them to read the book – or another work of the Brontes. All the important things are there, but the most important moments are brought forth. (For example, it’s easy to see what a terrible time young Jane had at Lowood school without a half-hour of child beatings and crappy food.)
This film version is straight-up gorgeous. Every thread and fabric shines, and the locations where the scenes were shot are heart-stopping in their beauty. Witness the opening scenes where Jane stumbles through the moors, and the amazing horizon off in the distance, and tell me it’s not jaw-dropping.
The film’s strongest point is the brilliant casting. As one who’s known these characters my whole life, I’m picky when it comes to actors who appear in the film versions. Many film versions get it wrong and make Jane and Rochester gorgeous people of the same age, and make the whole thing more romance-novel-esque than Bronte’s original creepy book. In this version, the cast is a knock-out. First off, this “Jane Eyre” is blessed with a captivating creature named Mia Wasikowska in the title role. Best known for playing the title role in Tim Burton’s trippy “Alice in Wonderland.” Ms. Wasikowska frumps herself up and proves a remarkable – and for once age-appropriate – Jane. She’s stoic through much of the movie, as she should be, but when the waterworks come they’re a flood. Opposite this remarkable performance is Michael Fassbender as an imposing yet appealing Edward Fairfax Rochester. These two have stellar chemistry as two flawed lovers, and are absolutely believable. Dame Judi Dench appears as an adorable and lovely Mrs. Fairfax, all worry and girlish curls. Little Romy Settbon Moore is a tiny delight as Adele, Jane’s charge.
Thanks to a rather genius new framing device that begins the movie with a heart-broken Jane leaving Thornfield manor and winding up at the home of St. John Rivers and his sisters, the character of St. John (usually relegated to a ten minute or less vignette) actually gets some play. The casting of Jamie Bell (yep, “Billy Elliot” himself) puts Wasikowska opposite a young, coldly-appealing St. John Rivers, and makes the idea that Jane may actually elect to stay with the Rivers a tad more believable than in past film versions.
There were a few things I noticed (and missed) that differ from the original novel. Namely, that the character of Grace Poole is all but forgotten – only appearing in the Bertha Mason reveal scene, and having no real lines. Though the air of suspense still lingers in the halls of Thornfield, I’ve always felt that the character of Grace was a delightful crone for Jane to ponder. That said, I get that its a movie and things have to be trimmed, and the story remains intact. Also, when Jane learns the story of the fire at Thornfield and the fate of Bertha and Edward, in this film it’s Mrs. Fairfax who delivers that announcement. In the book, Robert (a servant) tells Jane this story. Alas, Robert didn’t make the cut and his character is nowhere to be found in this movie – so Dame Judi Dench gets an added scene. (Hey, if you pay for Dame Dench, use her!) My last point of contention – and it’s a teeny one – is that the final scene between Jane and Edward is played outdoors, instead of at Robert’s home. But, as previously discussed, Robert isn’t a character in this world – so I get it.
Is it my favorite screen adapation of “Jane Eyre?” No, but it’s a close second. My heart still belongs to the Charlotte Gainsbourg/William Hurt version, which I feel got every detail dead-on perfect. That said, this new version is probably the one I’d recommend to non-Bronte-junkies who ask me which film version they should watch.
Overall, it’s a lovely film – whether you already love “Jane Eyre” or not.