This film adaptation of the classic novel Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte was originally aired on Great Britain’s ITV in March of 1997 runs approximately one hour and 45 minutes. Obviously, a great deal had to be cut from the story in order to fit it into that kind of time parameter, but Kay Mellor’s script concentrates rightly on the romance between Jane Eyre and Edward Rochester and the Gothic suspense of Thornfield.
This review contains plot spoilers.
Orphaned ten year old Jane Eyre (Laura Harling), horribly mistreated by her father’s family, is bundled off to the Lowood Institution, a terrible school for orphan girls, ran by the evil Reverend Brocklehurst (Michael Denigris). She makes one close friend who dies of typhus, but grows up to become a teacher. The adult Jane Eyre (Samantha Morton), looking to see more of the world, takes a position as governess at Thornfield Manor. The housekeeper, Mrs. Fairfax (Gemma Jones) treats her kindly and she takes charge of a little French girl, Adele (Timia Berthome). The master of the manor, Mr. Edward Rochester (Ciarán Hinds) is a rough man who has been greatly disappointed in life. He takes an interest in Jane and they become friends, gradually falling in love.
But Thornfield holds a great secret, which Jane gradually becomes aware of: a seemingly crazy servant, Grace Poole, wanders the house at night, giggling insanely. Mrs. Fairfax informs Jane that Ms. Poole is kept on due to her long service to the family. Mr. Rochester brings some of the local gentry to visit him, including a beautiful young woman, Blanche Ingram (Abigail Cruttenden) who is determine to marry Rochester. Jane is nearly at her wits end when she receives word that her aunt is dying and has requested her presence. While Jane is gone, Rochester misses her terribly and when she returns he proposes to her. They have some happiness before the wedding, which is interrupted by a Mr. Mason stating that they cannot be married because Mr. Rochester already has a wife. Rochester drags them all back to Thornfield to reveal his insane wife that he married in Jamaica, through the deception of her family. The marriage called off, Jane runs away and is discovered unconscious in a field by a young, handsome minister, St. John (Rupert Penry-Jones) who begs her to marry him and follow him to India as a missionary. Jane, still obsessed with Rochester, goes back to find Thornfield burned to the ground, Rochester’s wife dead, and him a blind man wallowing in his own misery. She surprises him, they marry and have two children.
Obviously, to anyone familiar with the novel, the film leaves out a great deal of the story. It rushes through Jane’s childhood, skips through the Lowood years, eliminates the Reeds as viable characters, leaves out her inheritance and shoots through her association with St. John, all to serve the purpose of the romance, which is quite successful. In this adaptation, it is not a deep story, but it is skillfully told. The direction by Robert Young is deft, using creative camera angles, deep colors, and excellent editing.
Samantha Morton really carries the move from beginning to end. Beautiful, passionately attached to her character, she wraps the movie around her and makes everything work. Ciarán Hinds is a fine actor, but gets carried away sometimes with his passion. The other supporting actors, including the wonderful Gemma Jones, all add to the strong ensemble.
In this version, we may miss major parts of the story, but the arc has been honed into something that somehow works altogether. It’s sad that a knowledge of the full work by Brontë might hinder enjoyment of this movie, but that simply can’t be avoided in any adaptation of a major novel. The one thing we call all be thankful for is that the preachiness of the book is cut along with everything else.
I think this movie should be seen, if for no other reason than the excellent performance by Samantha Morton!
This 1847 classic novel both delights and confounds a modern reader.
Told mostly in first person past (with brief lapses into first person present) by the heroine, Jane Eyre, the book was originally subtitled An Autobiography. It begins with Jane as a young girl of ten years as an orphan living with her Aunt Reed at Gateshead Hall.
Adapting a classic novel to the big screen is always a dicey proposition. The screen writer and director have a limited amount of time, yet there is so much in a classic novel that readers depend on for a satisfying experience.
This adaptation of Charlotte Brontë’s classic novel Jane Eyre was produced in 2011. Directed by Cary Fukunaga from a script by Moira Buffini, this is clearly the best of the recent movie versions of the novel. Ms. Buffini’s script is faithful to the novel, yet innovative in the way it tells the story, bringing a passion lacking in the other attempts.