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.
For a detailed plot synopsis, please see my review of the novel at the link below.
The movie begins between the second and third sections of the book, when Jane (Mia Wasikowska) runs away from Thornfield Hall and becomes lost on the moors. This is a dramatic departure from the other adaptations, which tell the story in a straightforward manner. To bring the single most iconic scene to passionate life at the very beginning is both clever and stirring. After she is found at the doorstep of St. John Rivers (Jamie Bell), the first two parts of the story are told in flashback as Jane regains herself and settles into life with St. John and his two sisters, Mary and Diana. The other two adaptations give the final third of the novel short shrift, but this version, by making it the “present day” of the movie, allows us to experience Jane’s new life and the relationship with St. John to the fullest.
The second innovation is that the script makes the deepest cuts in the first section, Jane’s childhood. There are good and bad repercussions of this, but in this movie they are mostly good. The abuse within Mrs. Reed’s (Sally Hawkins) household by both her aunt and her cousins is shown much more dramatically. The child actress playing Jane at ten, Amelia Clarkson, does a terrific job. The cruelty of the school is brought out more boldly in this version, as we actually see Jane’s friend, Helen Burns (Freya Parks) being caned by the headmistress. So, even though this section is shorter, it is much more powerful in setting up Jane’s character.
After leaving Lowood as a 17 year old girl, Jane takes her position at Thornfield Hall. In this version, it seems much older, more rustic and authentic, dark and brooding, becoming more the character that Brontë created in the novel. The housekeeper, Mrs. Fairfax (Judi Dench) guides her through narrow hallways, dimly lit by candles. Her pupil, Adele (Romy Settbon Moore), speaks mostly French and is very charming. Mr. Rochester (Michael Fassbender) is offensive, brooding and Gothic. The entire creation of Thornfield Hall is much spookier than the other versions. This film also shows the process of Jane and Rochester falling in love, which makes it much more believable. The script actually brings over some of the dialogue from the book where Jane and Rochester speak during the evening. The viewer can see Jane challenging him intellectually.
The acting is superb. Mia Wasikowska gives an extraordinary performance as Jane Eyre, even if she is quite a bit more beautiful than the character in the book. They try to make her look plain, but Wasikowska’s eyes alone give her away as a beautiful woman. Likewise, Michael Fassbender is terrific as Rochester, but he’s just a little too handsome. Nonetheless, these two actors have an extraordinary chemistry that brings a great deal of emotion to the story. The supporting characters are also very well drawn, again bringing a felicity to the book that is rare in film adaptations. Jamie Bell is especially good as St. Johns.
Cary Fukunaga’s expert direction brings this wonderful script to life, from creating the rustic Gothic texture of the environment to the beautiful use of light and shadows throughout Thornfield Hall. The film is full of a kind of shimmering beauty that makes it a wonderful viewing experience.
From almost every point of view, this is a delightful adaptation of a great classic novel.
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. Indeed, there is so much that is germane to the internal logic of a novel of depth that the story itself is resistant to adaptation within a two hour format.
This film adaptation of the classic novel Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë 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.