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Jane Eyre movie poster

Jane Eyre: Movie Review

Genre: Drama, Romance
Rated: PG-13
Directed by: Cary Fukunaga

Starring: Mia Wasikowska, Michael Fassbender, Jamie Bell, Dame Judi Dench
Released by: Focus Features

In Short: A Gothic adaptation of Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre, this strikingly shot and superbly acted film emphasizes the novel’s darker side.

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An English Gothic Romance

Jane Eyre is always running in the newest film adaptation of Charlotte Brontë’s ever-popular novel. From the very outset we see Jane fleeing from Thornfield Hall across the moors to the windswept stone cottage of Mr. St. John Rivers. And near the film’s end we see Jane running back in the opposite direction following Mr. Rivers’ disastrous marriage proposal. These two events frame the chronologically choppy narrative of Moira Buffini’s screenplay. Only about two-thirds of the way through the film do we find out why Jane has run away. Jane’s childhood at Lowood and time as governess at Thornfield are told as flashbacks while Jane recuperates with the Rivers family. This re-structuring of the novel is perhaps the screenplay’s most successful and original feature.

What also sets apart this adaptation is its emphasis on drawing out the Gothic elements in the story. Much is made of Jane’s Blakean watercolors, for example, and Rochester’s conversations with Jane describing her as a fairy. There are the horrific elements too, such as Jane waking in the night to find Rochester’s chamber on fire or when she is nursing Mr. Mason and is frightened by something in the inner room. One cannot pass over in silence Jane’s childhood horror in the red room at Mrs. Reed’s house either. Yet, for all the heightened Gothic elements, Thornfield Hall’s burning and Mrs. Rochester’s suicidal leap are surprisingly omitted. 

Michael Fassbender and Mia Wasikowska in Jane Eyre Mia Wasikowska and Tamzin Merchant in Jane Eyre

By making"Jane Eyre" into a more Gothic romance, director Cary Joji Fukunaga and screenwriter Buffini have neglected many of the brighter moments and characters in the story. We see little, if any, of Miss Temple, who is Jane’s savior throughout the first part of the novel, nor do we meet the kind-hearted doctor who first suggests that Jane ought to be sent to school. Readers can rest assured, however, that nothing of consequence in the novel has been changed.

Mia Wasikowska’s Jane Eyre is perfectly plain Jane, Michael Fassbender’s Mr. Rochester is dashingly dark and brooding and Dame Judi Dench’s Mrs. Fairfax is spot-on. Casting choices for the other characters, however, are not so successful. Sally Hawkins is a brilliant actress, but she is not robust enough for Mrs. Reed. Neither is Imogen Poots’ Miss Ingram tall and stately enough, nor Romy Settbon Moore’s Adèle Varens beautiful enough. These odd choices serve to make Wasikowska’s Jane appear beautiful by comparison.

The cinematography is stunning throughout, with wide, sweeping shots across the bleak landscape of the Derbyshire dales, including violent downpours and lightning. Together with the old, stately mansions and drab Victorian dress, Fukunaga succeeds in painting a dark and dangerous England of yesteryear. While this new version of "Jane Eyre" may not bring the novel up-to-date or be the definitive film adaptation, it certainly is a fresh take on a classic tale.


Reviewed by Barnaby Hughes


(Updated: 03/04/11 CT)

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