Jane Eyre

Jane Eyre

★★★★½

(directed by Cary Fukunaga, 2011)

This is a retrospective review, as I saw Jane Eyre a fortnight ago now. Having read glowing reports of the film, I was really looking forward to it, even though the story has had more than its fair share of adaptations (along with Emma and Pride and Prejudice). One might ask: do we need another version? However, Cary Fukunaga has done a great job and gives a much-loved classic the sensual film treatment it deserves.

By ‘sensual’ I don’t mean overtly erotic: bodices are kept strictly unripped and the relationship between Jane and Rochester is a masterpiece of teasing understatement. What I mean is that Fukunaga  revels in sensory detail, such as the fall of light – even the rather bleak grey light so common in northern England gains a poetic edge. The outdoor scenes are washed in greys and thin sunlight; the indoor scenes by shafts of sunlight through windows or the glow of candlelight.  The order of the book is changed slightly, but I think Fukunaga’s choice to jump into the middle of the story, and then look at how Jane came to be there, works well.  It means the story can be told in a more dramatic, modern way than simply as a Bildungsroman taking us through Jane’s life from stage to stage.

The costumes are a delight. In Jane’s childhood, the clothes look as if they’re slightly too large, the skirts and sleeves puffing out just that bit too much, the frills just a bit over the top, as if the treatment of Jane’s aunt and cousins were about to tip into caricature. Mrs Reed in particular looks as if she’s stepped out of one of Thomas Lawrence’s more extravagant portraits. Jane herself is much more subdued in appearance: as an adult, her main method of expression seems to be her hairstyle, which shifts from a girlish style with looped braids beneath the ears to a simpler bun as she becomes more sure of herself. There were points where, with her back to the camera, she looked like one of William Etty’s models, all smooth cream neck and chignon.

Jane Eyre

Jane (Mia Wasikowska) up on the moors

As a number of people have noted, Mia Wasikowska looks just right for Jane: she has supreme poise and in this film her face, while not beautiful, has a captivating air of self-possession. She is matter-of-fact and brisk, with a (thoroughly plausible) gentle northern burr to her voice.  Michael Fassbender as Rochester was a pleasing surprise for me, as I couldn’t remember having seen him in anything before. He manages to blend the attractive side of Rochester (his magnetism, and his easy, ironic way of dealing with Jane) with the inner turmoil bubbling away beneath (mad wife in the attic; underlying threat of violence, etc.).  What also impressed me about these two actors was that they both seemed to age and change believably during the film. At the end, when she returns to find him sitting blinded in the orchard with his dog, he looks as if time has passed, and as if he really has suffered. That final scene, actually, was probably the most beautiful of all of them. As so often in the film, words are simply a cover for glances, gestures and touch. (The music is gorgeous too, very simple. It reminded me of the light piano music on the soundtrack to the Pride and Prejudice film.) All in all, it was a very self-indulgent way to spend an evening.

On a final note, I was sure that I’d previously come across the actor playing Richard Mason, the brother of Mr Rochester’s unfortunate wife. It wasn’t until the credits that I realised this was Harry Lloyd, who not only caught my eye as Prince Rupert in the excellent English Civil War TV series The Devil’s Whore, but also achieved the remarkable feat of making Viserys Targaryen almost sympathetic in Game of Thrones. (To my astonishment, having just checked this information, I discover that Michael Fassbender was also in The Devil’s Whore, as Thomas Rainsborough. I clearly need to watch it again.)

Buy the film

Jane Eyre

Mr Rochester (Michael Fassbender) and Jane (Mia Wasikowska)

2 thoughts on “Jane Eyre

  1. Lucy says:

    I was (am) very fond of this adaptation, but at the time I felt like I was whistling in the dark with my positive review of it. I haven't read any review since then that has said so well as yours what was satisfying about both Fassbender's and Wasikowska's performances. For me, the distinctive thing about Jane is a quiet self-possession combined with a firm identity. modern actresses can easily relate to the firm identity but few can find the inner quiet, which is partly the demeanor of many women and partly Jane's special endurance. Wasikowska finds this place of quiet as does Ruth Wilson.

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