Synopsis: After surviving a tumultuous childhood, Jane Eyre ventures out into the world to become a governess. At first she happily embraces her position at Thornfield Hall, and then she meets the mysterious and abrupt master of the house, Mr. Rochester. Over time, Jane and Rochester form a close friendship and Jane eventually falls in love him. Jane seems to have finally found the happiness that constantly eludes her. But everything is not as it seems. Will Mr. Rochester’s secret destroy Jane’s happiness forever?
Review: Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre is an enduring classic and one of my favorite novels. Bronte and her sisters spent their early life at the Clergy Daughter’s School at Cowan Bridge in Lancashire. For the rest of her life Charlotte emphasized that the schools poor conditions negatively affected her health and physical development. Both Maria and Elizabeth Brontë died from tuberculosis; they probably caught the disease while at school. This background is needed to understand the bleak depiction of Jane Eyre’s life. Charlotte based Jane Eyre off of her own life experiences, which is why the story evokes a strong emotional response.
Jane Eyre has been adapted for the big screen several times. Some adaptions are more faithful than others. I have never understood why screenwriters feel the need to add superfluous details to a classic piece of literature. Also, most directors seem to have an overwhelming desire to turn Jane Eyre into an overwrought gothic tragedy. Thankfully, the 2011 adaption is mostly faithful to the novel and decidedly un-gothic.
First of all, this adaption is probably the most artistic one ever made. The film has an artsy edge, which is perfectly fine. Adriano Goldman, the cinematographer, does a fantastic job making the wild moors look majestic and imposing. I also thought that Dario Marianelli’s score added the right amount of longing, tenderness, and abandon to the story. Combined together, the cinematography and music emphasized the story and themes. Sometimes these elements overwhelm the narrative, thankfully, this did not occur.
Secondly, I thought the female lead was well cast. Mia Wasikowska does a great job playing the reserved and slightly naïve Jane. She is a relatively new actress, but shows the potential for greatness. The severe hairstyle and drab clothing helped Wasikowska bring Jane alive on screen. She managed to come across as independent and not a slave to self-pity. Also, her portrayal did not paint Jane as a selfless saint, which some depictions tend to veer towards. I thought Wasikowska injected the right amount of backbone and shy reserve into her depiction. Jane is supposed to be a strong female with her own opinions and desires. Yet, Jane is also a product of her upbringing and is shy and reserving due to her past treatment. Wasikowska managed to bring both aspects of Jane’s character alive on screen. This is a good thing since she had to play off of Michael Fassbender’s imposing Rochester.
Thirdly, Michael Fassbender does a wonderful job depicting Mr. Rochester. His Rochester is a cynical, commanding man with a slightly crooked smile. One can easily imagine a sheltered young woman falling in love with his worldly character. Rochester is not an easy role to play. He is nearly impossible as he is supposed to be mysterious, commanding, dashing, cynical, wild, tender, yearning, and redeemable all at the same time. Very few actors have the skill needed to give such a nuanced performance. Some actors tend to emphasize either the commanding or mysterious aspect and let the other qualities slide. Fassbender does a notable turn and keeps the character from falling into a caricature. I thought Fassbender had the right amount of charisma, nuance, and swagger to counter Wasikowska’s naïvely independent Jane. Wasikowska and Fassbender had strong on screen chemistry and were believable. I hope Fassbender has the opportunity to make other period dramas in between all the superhero movies. He is a talented actor and deserves complicated roles.
Finally, the plot closely followed the narrative form the novel. For the sake of time, a lot of Jane’s childhood story is told in condensed flashbacks. At key points in the movie the story depicts Jane’s humiliation and abandonment at the hands of her aunt and her time at the brutal boarding school. This serves to emphasize Jane’s lack of understanding of the world of men and how she came to fulfill the governess position at Thornfield Hall. Thankfully the flashbacks do not detract from the main narrative. However, the flashback style does make it appear that Jane is extremely haunted by her childhood. This is a slight departure from the book where Jane accepts her childhood and moves on. However, this is merely a small foible and does not change the mood or narrative of the story. It merely makes Jane appear more damaged and fragile than Brontë intended.
I thought Cary Fukunaga, the director, did a great job bringing Jane Eyre to life. The adaption was well done and mostly faithful to the novel. It is one of the better literary adaptions in recent years. Out of all the movie interpretations of this novel, this one is probably my favorite. If you want a scene-by-scene adaption, I suggest the equally fantastic 2006 BBC miniseries starring Ruth Wilson as Jane and Toby Stephens as Rochester.
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