Dir.: Cary Fukunaga
With: Mia Wasikowska, Michael Fassbender, Judy Dench
Adapting a classic is always a daunting task, in the case of “Jane Eyre” it is doubly so – not only is Charlotte Brontë’s tale of passion and horror a much loved literary work, but there are also numerous film and TV versions of it; the most admired ones being the film with Orson Welles and Jane Fontaine and the BBC series with Zelah Clarke and Timothy Dalton. Both these works are united by the fact that it is the male actors whose performances are the most memorable. For me personally, Timothy Dalton will always remain the definitive Mr Rochester – dangerous, wild and endlessly charismatic.
Cary Fukunaga’s modern adaptation does not shy away from the stateliness of its source – the film is very beautiful and classy, in a Nordic, cold sort of way. The cinematography reminded me of Vilhelm Hammershoi’s paintings, especially the great restraint of the grey hues in the scenes with the Yorkshire moors. The film also closely reflects the main themes of the novel – there is the somewhat Gothic sense of terror and dread, oppression, isolation and an ardent sense of longing. Although, “Jane Eyre” appears to be quite slow moving and calm, there are moments when you have to clinch your hands together, for the tension is at times unbearable.
The story is told in flashbacks, I think that there weren’t enough scenes from Jane’s miserable childhood, I always found them to be the most terrifying. However, Jane and Rochester’s first meeting is done superbly well. The development of their relationship is fascinating to observe – there is much repressed eroticism and sometimes Rochester plays his little game of seduction only too well; Jane on the other hand is so suspicious and distrustful of his intentions that she often ends up rebuking him unknowingly. My main criticism is that the key moments of the story, i.e. the failed wedding and the meeting with the mad wife did not have the same degree of drama as they did in the novel. The magnitude of Jane’s suffering and disgust was not fully revealed.
As I said above, it is the performances of various Mr Rochesters that are the most celebrated; this version presents us with a glorious Jane Eyre. Mia Wasikowska seemed to have understood her character perfectly – she is “poor, obscure, plain and little”, yet she possesses a great inner strength, a bright mind and enough of self-deprecating sense of humour that you end up totally falling for her. Her turn as one of most beloved literary heroines should be praised and recognised I think. Michael Fassbender does not try to outdo Welles and Dalton in their own game and instead of being a giant beast of a man, he gives us a Rochester who is smouldering, cynical, lean and very intense. His gloomy smile is scarily sexy, might I add. Judy Dench also provides a wonderful support as Mrs Fairfax, a housekeeper who means well but does not catch on to half the things that go unsaid between the two lovers.
All in all, this is a good adaptation with some great scenes, a beautiful scenery and soundtrack. It doesn’t surprise you or knock you out, as the all-consuming passion of the novel is a tad too toned down. Still, I recommend you watch it, Charlotte Brontë wouldn’t be turning in her grave I am sure.