Jane Eyre 1996

Jane Eyre 1996Adapting 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.  That was proven conclusively with the BBC film Pride and Prejudice, presented as a television mini-series five hours long.

Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre presents particular problems because each of the three distinct elements of the story warrants telling, yet the third section is difficult to fit into a film.  Adapted for the screen by Hugh Whitemore and legendary director Franco Zeffirelli, this 1996 script, like others before it, concentrates on Jane’s childhood and her relationship with the master of Thornfield Hall, but compresses the third part of the book into a few hasty minutes.

For a full synopsis of the story, I refer readers to my review of the novel Jane Eyre.  In short, it is the story of a girl, Jane Eyre (Anna Paquin), in the middle years of 19th Century in England, orphaned and mistreated by her aunt, then sent to an impoverished school for girls.  She grows up to become a teacher (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and is employed at Thornfield Hall by the housekeeper, Mrs. Fairfax (Joan Plowright) as governess for a little French, ward of the master of the hall, Mr. Edward Rochester (William Hurt).  She falls in love with him, but he is married to a madwoman, so Jane runs away and is taken in by a clergyman, St. John (Samuel West) and his sisters.  The clergyman employs her as a school teacher, but asks her to become his wife and travel with him as a missionary.  She refuses and instead goes back to Thornfield Hall, only to find that it has been destroyed in a fire.  Discovering that Rochester’s mad wife died in the blaze, she reunites with the man she loves.

Director Franco Zeffirelli is a master at camera composition, use of landscape, and color and this film certainly reflects that.  It is beautiful in every respect and can be enjoyed simply for that aspect.  Both Anna Paquin and Charlotte Gainsbourg are wonderful as Jane Eyre at ten and seventeen.  They look so much alike that they are certainly believable as the same person.  That Gainsbourg is made to look plain is a step above most adaptations of the novel and it makes her extra believable in the role.  She also infuses the character with the simplicity and independence that make Jane Eyre such a memorable character.  The creation of Jane Eyre in this film is really terrific!  William Hurt is fine as Rochester, though he is plainly a little too good looking for the part.  There are also a few times when I didn’t believe him as an Englishman, although there is nothing glaring about the performance.  It is solid, but not overly impressive.  The supporting cast is really terrific, especially Joan Plowright as Mrs. Fairfax, Leanne Rowe as Helen Burns, John Wood as Mr. Brocklehurst, Fiona Shaw as Mrs. Reed, Geraldine Chaplin as Miss Scatcherd, Amanda Root as Miss Temple, Billie Whitelaw as Grace Poole, and Maria Schneider as Rochester’s mad wife Bertha.  Elle McPherson, the model, also makes a cameo as Blanche Ingram, the society woman set on marrying Rochester for his money.

Zeffirelli spends adequate time on Jane’s childhood, especially in framing the friendship between her and Helen Burns.  The middle section that concentrates on the evolving relationship between Jane and Rochester is extremely well done.  The affection between them is difficult to achieve, partly because they are such different people, but Gainsbourg and Hurt work very well together and Zeffirelli helps the viewers to see it happening without using words.  It is masterfully done.

Whitemore and Zeffirelli take a big chance, however, by introducing the characters of St. John and his sister Mary as go-betweens when Jane’s aunt Mrs. Reed becomes ill before dying.  Although it tightens up the plot in a creative way, it also puts in place the means of Jane ending up with them later on and leads the screenwriters to completely eliminate what might be the best scene in the entire work: Jane’s wandering the moors alone after she leaves Rochester.  In the novel and in other screen adaptations the scene is extremely powerful.  Jane, without caring for her own life, wanders aimlessly, sleeps in a ditch and is at death’s doorstep when she stumbles onto St. John’s home.  By cutting out that scene, the screen writers have her go directly to St. John based on his prior association with her and her illness is skirted over very quickly.  Likewise, Jane’s enormous confusion over St. John’s proposal is also missing.  In the novel, her thoughts on the proposal provide the entire basis for her return to seek out Rochester and that inner logic hurts the entire last part of the movie.

On the other hand, Zeffirelli brings the film in at slightly under two hours.  It is a beautiful movie, with many positive aspects to it, not the least of which is the most believable Jane I’ve yet seen.  Paquin and Gainsbourg are absolutely marvelous and that means a lot in a story that absolutely depends on the believability of the title character.  I find it a little annoying that William Hurt has top billing because his character is truly ancillary to Jane.

It is a good film and should be seen by all fans of Jane Eyre.


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.


Samantha Morton2_Jane EyreRead my review of the 1997 ITV movie of Jane Eyre.

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.


Jane Eyre 2011Read my review of the 2011 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.

Chocolat

Chocolat VienneMost things that give enjoyment are not bad. In fact, most things in life that we enjoy are entirely without sin, even if they do induce sensual pleasure, such as, let us say, chocolate, that most wonderful of confections.

My review contains information about the story, so if you haven’t seen the movie, beware. Reading this review may spoil the ending for you!

It is 1959, in a French village surrounded by a wall and a river, barricaded from the world as if it hadn’t changed since the Renaissance. On a Sunday morning when everyone is at church, a woman, Vianne (Juliette Binoche), and her young daughter Anouk (Victoire Thivisol), trudge through the wind and snow to open a chocolaterie. Vianne is destined to wander from town to town, as her mother did, dispensing the joy of chocolate.  She carries her mother’s ashes with her and she knows that Anouk will also be destined for the same fate.

 The mayor, Comte Paul de Reynaud (Alfred Molina) finds it sinful to open such a business during Lent and he encourages the villagers to boycott it and their young priest, Pere Henri (Hugh O’Conor) to preach sermons against it.  When he discovers that Anouk is an illegitimate child and that Vianne will not attend mass, he becomes even more consumed with driving her out of business.  He has his own problems: his wife has gone to Italy and it looks like she isn’t coming back and he is also struggling with his own desires for food as he starves himself in his sorrow.

chocolat anoukIn order to coax the villagers to buy her chocolate, Vianne gives away free samples, winning over Guillaume Blerot (John Wood), an older man whose little dog Charlie likes the treats. Blerot pines after a WWI widow, Madame Audel (Leslie Caron) and he wins her over with little chocolate treats.  Vianne’s first real friend comes in the form of her landlady, Armande (Judi Dench), who also doesn’t go to church.  She is estranged from her daughter, Caroline (Carrie-Anne Moss), who works for the Comte and keeps her son, Luc (Aurélien Parent-Koenig), away from his grandmother. Vianne arranged for Luc to spend some time with Armande at the chocolaterie under the pretense of his drawing a portrait of her.  Vianne wins another friend when the owner of the café, Serge (Peter Stormare) beats his wife Josephine (Lena Olin) who runs to the chocolaterie for sanctuary.  She stays and becomes Vianne’s assistant.  The Comte attempts to force Serge to get himself together, making him abstain from alchohol, teaching him manners, sending him to catechism classes.

The town is thrown into chaos when a band of gypsies arrives by boat, docking along the river front. Led by a charismatic young man, Roux (Johnny Depp), the gypsies want nothing more than to trade, but the Comte forbids it and mounts a campaign to have the villagers boycott the gypsies.  Of course, Vianne is intrigued and makes friends with Roux.  When Serge assaults the chocolaterie in a drunken rage, breaking open the door, the women fight him off and Josephine knocks him out with a skillet. Roux volunteers to repair Vianne’s door and she agrees to hire him, thus breaking the boycott.  The Comte takes his fight with her to a new level as he tells all of the villagers that to consort with her is to consort with the devil and he makes Pere Henri do the same thing from the pulpit.

Vianne feels that the whole world is against her and considers leaving, but Armande requests that she throw her a party for her 70th birthday.  Vianne also has planned a Festival for Easter Sunday. Most of Vianne’s friends attend, including Luc and Roux, but dessert is to be served on Roux’s boat and they all retire there to dance and enjoy the evening.  Caroline comes in search of Luc, but when she sees him dancing with his grandmother, she doesn’t interfere.  However, Serge brings the Comte to see the party and the mayor tells him, “Something must be done.”  When the party winds down, a fire erupts on the boats.  Seeing the damage, Vianne decides that it is time to leave, so she packs, over Josephine’s pleas that she stay, and forces to Anouk to join her, but they fight and her mother’s ashes are spilled.  There is laughter and she looks into her kitchen to find Josephine leading the villagers in the preparation for the Easter Festival.  She abandons her plans to leave.

On the night before Easter, Serge confesses to the Comte that he started the boat fire because the Comte had told him that “something must be done.” In a fit of rage, the Comte banishes Serge from the village, then goes to pray, confessing that he is so starved and so weak of spirit that he must do something.  Taking up a knife, he breaks into the chocolaterie to destroy the confections in the window display, but a bit of chocolate splashes onto his lip and he licks it up. In one moment, he loses his composure and begins to eat every bit of chocolate he can get his hands on.  The next morning, Pere Henri sees the mayor passed out in the window display, covered in chocolate.

It’s hard to imagine anyone crusty enough not to love Chocolat.  It is a wonderful movie, beautifully and movingly directed by Lasse Hallström, the Swedish director who also gave us The Cider House Rules (and, by the way, Lena Olin’s husband).  The music by Rachel Portman, part gypsy, part Hispanic, part French, is absolutely perfect for every scene in the film.  Adapted by screenwriter Robert Nelson Jacobs from the novel by Joanne Harris, the story is strong and true, moving, funny, and uplifting.

All of the actors are wonderful and it would be hard to single out one performance that stands out above the other, but I must mention that Judi Dench is amazing as Armande and that Johnny Depp’s guitar adds a great deal to the fun. Binoche is lovely as Vianne and it is good to see her teamed with Lena Olin, the first time the two women have worked together since The Unbearable Lightness of Being.

This is an incandescent story of freedom. No matter how firm oppression may seem, if you are good and true and give love back to the world, the world will eventually come to you.