Jane Eyre 1997

Samantha Morton2_Jane EyreThis 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!


Jane EyreRead my review of the novel Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte!

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.


Jane Eyre 1996Read my review of the 1996 movie Jane Eyre by Franco Zeffirelli!

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.


Jane Eyre 2011Read my review of the 1997 Cary Fukunaga movie of Jane Eyre.

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.

Wallander

 

?????????????????????????This BBC mystery series is actually a chain of films based on the novels by Swedish writer Henning Mankell featuring Ystad police detective Kurt Wallander, a middle aged man coping with the deterioration of Sweden’s utopian ideals as the country wades into the 21st Century.  The Wallander novels have attained a world-wide popularity based as much on the character’s accessibility as the gripping nature of the crimes he solves.

Although many of the novels had already been adapted into Swedish films, in 2006 Mankell formed a production company called Yellow Bird for the express purpose of bringing the novels to the English speaking part of the world.  Producers Anne Mensah of BBC Scotland and Andy Harries and Francis Hopkinson of Left Bank Pictures were brought in to shepherd the project.  Although many distinguished British actors were considered for the series, Kenneth Branagh was a fan of the books and directly interceded the process.  He met with Mankell at an Ingmar Bergman film festival and literally talked the author into hiring him to play the role.  Various locations were considered for the movie including Scotland and the state of Maine in the United States, but the importance of the country the books were set in, Sweden, ultimately won out.  The country is so important that it is like a co-starring character.

The first three books to be filmed were Sidetracked, Firewall, and One Step Behind, although eventually the other novels would also be filmed.  This article deals exclusively with the first three movies.

Sidetracked introduces us to the character of Kurt Wallander by immediately dousing us in the beauty of a Swedish field abloom with rapeseed (a bright-yellow flowering member of the mustard family–see the photo) that dominates the camera.  Wallender has been called in because a young woman is hiding in the field.  He tries to approach her, declaring himself as a policeman, but she pours a can of gas over herself and sets herself afire.  Wallander is appalled and perplexed.  “What’s our country coming to,” he asks, “when fifteen year old girls set themselves on fire?”  In this first movie we discover that he is recently separated from his wife and that his grown daughter Linda (Jeany Spark) who is deeply concerned about his lifestyle, especially his hideous eating habits and his devotion to his job that frequently leaves him burned out and exhausted.  He has a very difficult relationship with his father (David Warner), but Linda eventually brings them back together and Kurt discovers that his father now has Alzheimer’s.  We also meet Wallander’s co-workers, most of whom are as devoted their work as he is.  Anne-Britt Hoglund (Sarah Smart) works most closely with him, but the group of detectives also includes Kalle Svedberg (Tom Beard) and Magnus Martinsson (Tom Hiddleston)  His investigation of the self-immolation eventually leads to a former police executive who is running a forced prostitution ring, supplying young girls, many foreign, to provide as virgins to wealthy businessmen.

Firewall begins with the murder of a cab driver by two young women who calmly turn themselves in and then wallow in a fatalist state that reveals nothing of why they did it.  In this movie, Linda sets up her father to participate in an internet dating site and he eventually dates the first woman to respond, but his faith that he might actually be able to start over is severely shaken by developments in the story.  His investigation of the murder uncovers a plot to bring down the European banking system by way of computer hacking.

The third film, One Step Behind, is a much more personal story as Wallander investigates a serial killer who is so random that no pattern can be discerned, even though they bring in a professional profiler to help them.  He forms a close bond with a girl who might lead them to the killer, but she is murdered practically before his eyes.  This leads him to a much deeper love for his own daughter, Linda.  He also meets a very interesting woman who seems to understand what he is going through.  Ultimately, the killer becomes more daring and brings his carnage to Wallander’s front door.

The directing, under the guidance of Philip Martin, is very smart, combining both documentary and drama film techniques to bring alive the landscape of Sweden.  The films capture the modern architecture and the nearly surreal beauty of the countryside by using a very lightweight, high resolution digital camera.  They create a kind of stark beauty that makes the movies each stand out as a visual delight, a rare and extraordinary imagery that doesn’t just bring the stories to life, but brings the landscape front and center.  The use of color in the imagery consistently keeps the viewer in a state of hyper-realism that is bold and addictive.

Branagh is perfect as Wallander, creating a character that is completely believable and engaging, so personally involved in his work that the viewer is allowed to see a fully realized person, with all of his faults as well as his good points.  He is very easy to identify with and that is part of what makes the movies so special.  All of the supporting actors are also well cast and believable.

If there is any fault to find with the movies, it is that the first two mysteries are pretty easy to solve and there are points where you wonder why Wallander hasn’t put it all together.  In those first two films, I knew who committed the murders long before the detective did, even though the directors did not tip it off.  At a certain point, I realized that even though I knew who committed the crimes, the films concentrate so well on the personal aspects, Wallander’s character, and the nature of the landscape that it just wasn’t important.  The third movie, however, works both as a mystery and as a great real-life drama and it makes me eager to see more.

I confess that I’m not a great fan of crime drama or murder mystery, but Wallander goes far beyond simple genre filmmaking, into a depth of character and landscape that makes each movie very special.  I look forward to seeing more of the Wallander movies in the future!

Lost in Austen

Lost in Austen trioThe general fascination with Jane Austen is continued in this 2008 four-part British television film, originally aired by ITV and released in the United States as a three hour film.  Written by Guy Andrews and directed by Dan Zeff, it has the feel of very bad fan fiction cranked out by professionals.  Barely worth 90 minutes of anyone’s time, three hours is far too much for this slim fantasy about a girl who switches places with Elizabeth Bennet in Pride and Prejudice.

This review contains information about the ending of the movie, so beware.

Amanda Price (Jemima Rooper) is a modern Jane Austen stuck in an unromantic relationship with a boozy, uncouth guy, Michael (Daniel Percival) and living in a flat in Hammersmith with a girlfriend, Pirhana (Gugu Mbatha-Raw). All she really wants is to be left alone so she can immerse herself in Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.

When she investigates a noise in her bathroom, she discovers none other than Elizabeth Bennet (Gemma Arterton) who has somehow found a portal in the upstairs of the fictional Bennet cottage and gone to see where it leads, which is 21st Century film reality.  Lizzy is not freaked out at all by joining the 21st Century and invites Amanda to visit the fictional Bennet world.  Once there, Lizzy locks the door, sealing Amanda in the book.  I still cannot process this remarkable change in Elizabeth Bennet.  Such a thing goes completely against the character created by Jane Austen.  When the Bennets discover Amanda, they seem to have no trouble with her arrival and blithely accept that their daughter is in Hammersmith and Amanda is come to visit, wearing a leather jacket.  Magic.  No big deal.

Amanda proceeds to wreak havoc on her favorite novel. Inexplicably, Mr. Bingley (Tom Mison) fall in love with Amanda instead of Jane Bennet (Morven Christie).  She struggles to set things right, but things keep getting worse and worse.  And the characters and plot of the book change completely at the writer’s whim.  There is no effort at all to show natural deviations from the novel or the nature of the characters, but the plot is twisted completely so that the writer can effect the action he wants.

In this upside down fantasy world, Jane marries Mr. Collins (Guy Henry), Charlotte Lucas (Michelle Duncan) runs off to Africa to become a missionary, Elizabeth settles into her new life without a second thought as to her family, Caroline Bingley (Christina Cole) is a Lesbian, Mr. Wickham (Tom Riley) is actually a good guy, and ultimately Mr. Darcy (Elliot Cowan) falls in love with Amanda. When the movie ends, Lizzy and Amanda permanently change places so that Amanda can marry Mr. Darcy and Lizzy can continue her new life in reality.

As a Brit might say: Complete rubbish.  Top to bottom.

Lost in this hash are a couple of pretty good performances, most notably by Hugh Bonneville as Mr. Bennet.

Although the premise is not as bad as it seems, the movie really loses its focus by altering Elizabeth’s character so dramatically. Even as unbelievable as the premise of opening a portal from a fictional book to reality, it still has more believability than seen such a well-known and loved character act in total contradiction to what is known of her.  A better idea would simply have been to drop a modern character into the book as Lizzy Bennet, rather than having them exchange places.  Although that idea might work, it would still require strict adherence to what is already known of the characters, a tenet that Guy Andrews seems to have abandoned anyway.

The key to writing good fantasy is this: reality may be altered as long as the alteration is consistent within itself.  With all of the inconsistencies to Pride and Prejudice present in this movie, one may as well simply attempt to rewrite the novel as one chooses.

On the other hand, if you have no reverence at all for Austen or the novel, you’d may as well lose three hours on a kinky British comedy with no meaning or heart. Enjoy.