04 April 2011

Jane Eyre

“There was no possibility of taking a walk that day.” So begins one of my favourite novels—Jane Eyre.  In the latest screen version, Jane Eyre opens with a flight through the moors, a scene that occurs more than half-way through the novel. We learn of Jane’s past through flashbacks, from her horrible childhood to her time at Thornfield Hall as the governess to the ward of the brooding Edward Rochester.

This new film is gorgeous. The use of natural lighting (and some computer work) washes the scenes in various shades of gray that help to enhance the mood of the story. There are also some intimate moments, as when Jane is seen alone in the garden of Thornfield, that have the feel of a impressionist painting.

For the most part the cast is spot on, from the always brilliant Judi Dench as the loyal housekeeper Mrs. Fairfax to Sally Hawkins as Jane's evil Aunt Reed. Freya Parks who appears briefly as Jane’s childhood friend, Helen Burns, is a dead ringer for Shirley Temple’s downtrodden friend Becky in The Little Princess (ok, I'm digressing). Yet the most important role, of course, is that of Jane, plain and small. Mia Wasikowska does not disappoint. She has the look and the intelligence of Jane Eyre. She also exhibits Jane's inability to completely suppress her emotions. Michael Fassbender has the daunting task of stepping into the shoes of Rochester. While he makes a dashing Byronic figure he doesn’t seem to have Rochester’s anguish. And quite frankly, he doesn’t seem all that intimidating either.

Which brings us to the reason why at the end I wasn’t in love with this adaptation. The film curiously seems to be lacking passion. There are tense scenes between Jane and Rochester but the overriding passion that runs throughout the book seems almost distant here. Perhaps this has something to do with the script, which has edited a very large novel down to just under two hours. In fact, there were scenes from the book that I missed like the gypsy fortuneteller at the party (actually, the whole visiting party seemed too short). Other omissions including the lack of seeing the important Grace Poole or having Adele’s relationship with Rochester reduced to a comment seem to take away from the story not help it along.

In the end, I felt myself unmoved by this Jane Eyre. If you want to see a great adaptation, get a copy of the 2006 production with Ruth Wilson and Toby Stephens. Now that’s a passionate Jane Eyre.

Photo by Laurie Sparham/Focus Features.

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