Saturday, June 22, 2013

Jane Eyre [2011]... a re-visited review

Jane Eyre Poster.jpg

My original review was posted in September 2011, written for those who appreciate Jane Eyre and want to know how this 2011 screen adaptation matches up to the novel.  If that's not you, much love... but prepare to be bored. It does contain spoilers, none of which will be a surprise to you if you've read the book or already researched the movie.  I have re-visited my original review and updated it.

After our recent time spent driving through the Yorkshire moors and visiting the Brontë Parsonage museum, I decided to watch this 2011 version of Jane Eyre again last night with the director's commentary on as I worked at diminishing my huge sewing pile.

Colours are one of the first things I notice about a movie I'm watching.  With this particular film I am always 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.  In nighttime scenes, we see little more than faces lit only by the candles they are carrying.  The surrounding darkness is intense, alive, and sometimes oppressive.

This is the first version of Jane Eyre in which I've been fully impressed with the portrayal of the title character.  I was gratified by Mia Wasikowska's accurate interpretation of Jane's strength and inner courage. After feeling disappointment with Ruth Wilson's pretty but meek and mild performance in the 2006 TV miniseries, it was refreshing to watch Wasikowska embody Jane's self-possessed yet passionate personality brilliantly.  Director Cary Fukinaga has chosen to capture on film only what Jane herself would have seen, which completely makes this all about Jane --rightly so.  The only exception is a brief moment when Mr Rochester discovers Jane's open window, and her flight from Thornfield.  This scene is blended with his voice calling out to her across the miles that separate them, so she is instantly connected to it anyhow.

Michael Fassbender carries off Mr Rochester's rudeness and generally abrupt manner quite well, as described in the novel.  He expresses a less fierce Rochester than the novel does, but this is in keeping with the movie's approach.  There is an 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 portrayed as 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!

A less important but yet rather key detail of this film is the fact that the characters of Jane and Rochester are played by actors of ages accurate to those in the novel.  Eighteen-year-old Wasikowska plays nineteen-year-old Jane, and Fassbender is at least thirty, or looks it. Wasikowska is small, with a childlikeness about her that conveys the naive Jane's character well.  Other film versions, for me, have been less believable just because of the inaccuracy of the casting.

Moira Buffini's screenplay is filled with direct quotes from Charlotte Brontë's novel.  Many 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 bare 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 the movie watchable.

In the director's commentary, Cary Fukunaga mentions his desire to strip the story down to its key elements and thus increase the emotional impact of the film, all within the time constraints.  I've seen other directors attempt less successfully to do this [notably Joe Wright's 2005 Pride and Prejudice], but here Fukunaga's strategy works, probably because of Moira Buffini's brilliant screenplay.  There is one scene --straight from the book-- after Jane's discovery of Rochester's duplicity on their wedding day, when she leaves her room for a drink of water only to stumble over Rochester on the threshold.  The conversation that takes place between them afterwards is one of the most evocative passages in the book, and so stark in its description of Jane's moral struggle that early reviewers of Jane Eyre derided Brontë's novel as "coarse".  In many film versions, this scene is either out or edited strangely.  Here it is completely stripped of its original verbosity and yet still faithfully rendered through a few accurately chosen lines, in an emotionally impacting scene that is heartrending and raw.  Rochester's sense of his own power and his inability to use it because of his love for Jane ["A mere reed she feels in my hand! I could bend her with my finger and thumb!"] and Jane's desperation ["God help me!"] are perfectly acted.

Those who have read the book will have no difficulty following the story of Jane Eyre as this movie portrays it.  For watchers who haven't, I think they might have some questions.

If I had not read the book, I might be wondering why Jane falls in love with Rochester in the first place.  The movie veers quite close to a rather strange interpretation of this, making it possible to believe that Jane is merely a lonely, persuadable schoolgirl and Rochester is selfishly 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, Charlotte Brontë clearly shows us that her feelings for Rochester arise out of a sense of an intellectual connection: a meeting of the minds and a bond between their spirits.

Also, I would question Rochester's wife Bertha's 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.

Both of these plot gaps are only a result of the lack of time to tell the story.  Yes, this is the "cliff's notes" version of Jane Eyre.  There is a fast-paced feel to what is actually a very slow story.  As with any film struggling to fit a many-layered, complex 500-page piece of literature into less than two hours of screen time [again, "Pride and Prejudice" 2005] we are missing a few scenes and narrative that define key developments in the plot.  In order to cram the story into the typical two hours, sacrifices have been made --thus the minor plot omissions-- leaving those unfamiliar with the novel unable to fully appreciate the story.  

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!  The abrupt ending was refreshing. I often feel, while reading the final few pages of Jane Eyre, that Brontë 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, succinct contrast was superbly executed.

This movie is a version made by those who've read the book and love it, for those who've read the book and love it.


  1. Anonymous9:07 am

    I don't recall Ruth Wilson being "meek and mild" as Jane Eyre.

    1. Just my opinion!! :) I don't think she portrayed a very accurate Jane, and her side of the screenplay was underwritten and weak in comparison to Mr Rochester's.


Please don't hesitate to comment if this post has provoked your thoughts! I enjoy reading what you have to say.