Director: Cary Fukunaga
Writer: Moira Buffini
Producers: Alison Owen, Paul Trijbits
Starring: Mia Wasikowska, Michael Fassbender, Jamie Bell, Judi Dench
Duration: 120 mins
1840s. Orphaned Jane is a unwelcome resident in her Aunt Reed’s home until she’s packed off to a boarding school where she continues to be mistreated. Despite the cruelty she suffers she stays at the school and even becomes a teacher there until, aged 19 she’s thrust out into the big wide world when she gets a job at Thornfield Hall in Yorkshire. She’s teaching a little girl who’s in the care of the house’s owner, the abrupt and slightly eccentric Mr Rochester. Despite the isolation of Thornfield Jane blossoms at this first taste of freedom, a responsible position, wages and a boss who shows her respect for the first time in her life. It isn’t long before Jane is feeling more than respect for Rochester but is uncertain of his feelings towards her, a mere employee in his household. He is prone to sudden mood swings and it becomes clear that there may be more to Rochester than he’s letting on.
According to Wikipedia Cary Fukunaga’s adaptation of Jane Eyre is the 16th motion picture based on the book. There are also of course the made for television versions and apparently ones for radio and even some musicals! So you’re probably sick of hearing about it and I should review something else. Why do people keep making new versions? This is the question that most reviewers have tried to grapple with when it comes to this latest version of Charlotte Bronte’s classic tale. Most seem to have answered it by saying it’s necessary for a new generation and that it sticks closely to the original story.
Who, of those who love the book, could argue with the first point? Of course every new generation should be dragged reluctantly to the text in order to be as surprised as previous ones, especially if you’re studying literature but dread endless “girly” novels full petticoats, dancing and Darcy. If you don’t know the story it’s hard to write about it without major spoilers, but I can tell you there’s death, destruction, child abuse, a spooky old house with things that go bump in the night and plenty of twists and turns, as well as the prim and proper heroine you’d expect.
It’s the second declaration about this latest movie version that I have issue with. The film manages to carry off the love story between Jane and Rochester well, which is mostly down to an excellent restrained performance by Mia Wasikowska, nearly matched by Michael Fassbender as Rochester. You feel the chemistry between them and believe in their relationship. It is also beautifully shot and the setting for Thornfield hall is a wonderfully atmospheric location. In this respect it stays true to the original story. Of course it doesn’t have to religiously follow the book but if it is going to in some aspects why ruin it in others?
Jane Eyre is so much more than a love story, one of the things that makes it great literature. It’s been described as Gothic Horror but you wouldn’t know it from watching this film. One of my first memories is watching the 1983 television adaptation and being terrified of the dark from then on. As an adult you should at least feel some shivers up your spine when watching Jane Eyre and get more than a few shocks. It’s meant to be scary but this film simply isn’t, mainly because it leaves out the most dramatic parts of the original text. The central wedding scene especially seems to have had the drama sucked out if it. I can’t see any reason for this other than something having to give in order to fit the story into 120 minutes. In doing this Fukunaga and writer Moira Buffini have made a beautiful love story that was enjoyable to watch but have taken the heart and soul out of Jane Eyre and therefore I certainly don’t see any justification for this latest adaptation. Watch one of the television versions or read the book instead.