Monday, September 12, 2011

::Jane Eyre:: a film review

To begin, you must understand that I am a lover of ancient, archaic English and Scottish literature.  In case you didn't already know.  Yep, I'm a geek.  This review is written for those who love Jane Eyre and want to know how this latest screen adaptation matches up to the novel.  If that's not you, much love... but prepare to be bored.

 [This review does contain spoilers, none of which will be a surprise to you if you've read the book or already researched the movie!]

After watching this film in an open state of mind, I think I'm ready to conclude that it is a reasonably faithful, gentle adaptation of Charlotte Bronte's classic novel.

I re-read the book last week, and felt completely prepared to critique, sitting in the sparsely populated cinema Friday evening on opening night with Hannah, my friend and fellow book-lover.

Strangely, I was instantly struck by the stunning colour palette. Mossy greys, forest greens, earthy browns, a few rare glimpses of russet reds.  Black shadows... deep and dark, pierced only by lonely candles or dim golden firelight. Truly evocative of an electricity-free 1840s England, this lighting [or lack of lighting] style has resulted in a drama that is more realistically shaded than than most period films.

Concerning the portrayal of the title character, I felt gratified by Mia Wasikowska's accurate interpretation of Jane's strength and inner courage. After being quite disappointed in Ruth Wilson's pretty but meek and mild performance in the TV miniseries of Jane Eyre from 2006, it was refreshing to watch Wasikowska capture Jane's self-possessed yet passionate personality brilliantly.

Michael Fassbender conveys Mr Rochester's rudeness and generally abrupt manner quite well, as described in the novel.  He expresses a rather less fierce Rochester than the novel does, but this is in keeping with the movie's approach.  There is a cold, austere dreamlike quality to the entire film, due to the restrained screenplay and understated filming style that imparts a softer feel to the plot and characters.  Actors playing Mr Rochester usually have a field day with their character; he is often portrayed as incredibly loud and larger than life, completely dwarfing Jane in personality, wealth, humour, and looks.  An appropriate amount of restraint in the interpretation of Mr Rochester, for this movie, is a welcome change from previous versions; after all, the novel is titled Jane Eyre - not Rochester!

Having so recently read the book, I instantly recognised much of the screenplay was impressively filled with direct quotes from Charlotte Bronte's novel.  Many of the poetic, well-loved lines, such as "A mere reed she feels in my hand! I could bend her with my finger and thumb", and "Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain, and little, I am soulless and heartless?" are in.  Others, less congenial to the story this movie is telling, such as "Reader, I married him" are out.  It's refreshing to see a film adaptation of a classic novel that doesn't feel the need to drastically change the language or the plot in order to make something watchable.

A few less positive elements have inevitably surfaced, as I've had more time to think through the movie.

The main difficulty with this version is the fast-paced feel to what is actually a very slow story.  As with any film struggling to fit a many-layered, complex piece of literature into less than two hours of screen time [such as Pride and Prejudice , 2005], we are seriously missing a few scenes, and some narrative that defines key developments in the plot.  In order to cram the story into the typical two hours, sacrifices have been made.  A number of these sacrifices have naturally been detrimental to this adaptation.

All the scenes included are right, but more are needed to truly set the story.  [Here's to hoping they will appear on DVD in an extended cut or deleted scenes!] 

For instance, if I had not read the book, and still watched this, I think my questions would include:

1)Why does Jane fall in love with Rochester in the first place?  The movie veers quite close to a rather strange interpretation of this. It would be possible to believe that Jane is merely a lonely, persuadable schoolgirl and Rochester is using her as an escape from his tarnished past, in an attempt to return to a more innocent time in his life when his memory was "without blot or contamination".  However, in the novel we clearly understand her feelings for Rochester arise out of a sense of an intellectual connection: a meeting of the minds.

2)Was Rochester's wife Bertha really mad, or did he just shut her up because he felt like it?  Seriously!  If I had never read the book, I would question her madness after watching this version.  We see her for all of three minutes -rather calm ones, at that- and the blood-chilling dream-to-reality scene in which she rips Jane's wedding veil in two makes no appearance in this adaptation.

To finish on a positive note, I love the way the film begins in the last third of the book and then plays catch-up for the remainder of the movie.  It is very well executed, and works perfectly.  Someone who hasn't read the novel might disagree with me on that, but I thought it was an effective and unique method of visually interpreting the book!  Also, the abrupt ending pleased me. I often feel, while reading the final few pages of Jane Eyre, that Bronte is rushing to provide a satisfactory postscript to the story of every single character in the plot, just as many traditional movies love to do.  Sometimes less is more; and this film's pared-down contrast was superbly done.

Have you watched this adaptation of "Jane Eyre"? Do you consider another screen version of this classic story to be your personal favourite? If so, tell me about it!  I'd love to hear your thoughts.


  1. I haven't seen it. I was afraid it would ruin the book for me. The book was really good and if it doused the power of the book I thought it would be a waste of time. It would be great if they could spend about 4 hours developing the story like they did the BBC version of Pride and Prejudice. I had such a vivid picture of Jane and Rochester from the book that I would hate to suffer losing it.

  2. Anonymous6:25 pm

    phogreat film review! I'm going to go read some more of my newly aquired version of the novel :O)


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