How could a single piece of literature possibly inspire seventeen different cinematic incarnations? You could think that between 1847 and now, there would have been one version that people would look at and say, ‘That’s good enough. Let’s leave it alone now.’ The overly-filmed story in question in Charlotte Bronte’s ‘Jane Eyre.’
After Jane’s parents die, her Aunt Sarah (Sally Hawkins) takes her in only to grow tired of looking after her. She promptly ships the young girl off to a cruel boarding school. When Jane (Mia Wasikowska) turns 18, she graduates and becomes a governess to Adele Varens (Romy Settbon Moore). Adele is the ward of Edward Fairfax Rochester (Michael Fassbender) the master of Thornfield Hall. Edward is initially cold toward Jane, but slowly warms to her when he sees her kindness and patience with Adele. Jane knows that she is not on the same social level with Mr. Rochester and any relationship would be seen as unacceptable by society. Still, it’s hard to extinguish one’s feelings when forced to live in such close proximity and when it is so clearly mutual
All is not as it seems at Thornfield Hall. The halls creak at night, Jane swears that she can hear voices and there are strange incidents happening with an unsettling frequency and intensifying violence.
Will Jane and Edward follow their hearts? Would society accept them if they do become a couple? Is there danger lurking in the old house?
If you paid attention during your English classes, you should probably know what happens in the story. As many liberties as can be taken with a classic, changing the ending to this would cause riots (not very threatening riots, mind you) at libraries and universities around the world, so there is little need to expect any curveballs in that respect.
For those completely unfamiliar with the story, this is probably one of the definitive gothic romances of literature. Director Cary Fukunaga emphasizes the Gothic part of the equation, with much of the story taking place at night in uninviting hallways and darkened rooms. There is an obvious sense of dread throughout. Whereas previous versions may have emphasized the romantic angle while acknowledging the spooky possibilities, this is the exact opposite. Things never get scary, but the tone is consistently ominous.
Wasikowska is really racking up the acting credits quickly. She does a great job in the role and her genuine youth makes her believable as a very young woman who is unsure about her own feelings. Fassbender’s Edward is a tough character to read, which is exactly the point. Most of the time, he has some variation of a tormented expression on his face. He doesn’t want to be around Jane because he knows something in the back of his mind, but when he relents and decides that he wants to be with her, that presents a whole new set of challenges. It’s a no-win situation for the man and while he isn’t always likeable, hindsight may absolve him for some of you. Then again, you may dislike him even more. Failing to mention Judy Dench in a BBC production would be unforgivable, so yes, she is in here as Mrs. Fairfax, the housekeeper.
Special features include: some deleted scenes, a brief look behind the scenes, scoring the film, an incredibly brief feature about the film’s lighting, and commentary.
‘Jane Eyre’ won’t necessarily convert hoards of people who aren’t already fans of literature, romance, or period pieces. It is a good introduction for some open-minded people who have wanted to explore a different genre but were afraid to wallow in stories that relied upon antiquated formalities and never ending walks through meadows. Bronte fanatics will probably find some omissions here and there to gripe about, but for the general public, this is a fine choice. Well, until the next version.
PG-13 121 minutes 2011
When J.J. Ellis isn’t writing as the Allentown DVD Examiner, his Decent Exposure Radio can be heard on the air every Friday night from 10:30 to midnight (EST) on WXLV 90.3 FM or wxlvradio.com!