Where better to start my new blog than with my favourite story of all time, Jane Eyre?
This September has seen the release of a new film version of the book directed by Cary Fukunaga. Billed as a dramatic re-telling in which Jane looks back on her childhood and life at Thornfield Hall from the vantage point of her new home with St John Rivers and his family, I went to the cinema enthusiastically and with an open mind.
The film begins dramatically with Jane fleeing Thornfield at dawn. This scene evoked all the pain and desparation which is so evident in the book. A very promising start. I was also impressed by the way this new interpretation dealt with Jane’s early life at Lowood School. Visually the children did look neglected, with Helen in particular appearing very ill. Previous versions have often underplayed the difficulties faced by the children in this institution.
Moira Buffini’s screenplay kept much of the book’s dialogue in its original form and style. This was particularly brilliant in the drawing room scenes showing the first conversations between Jane and Rochester, conveying exquisitely the intellectual connection between the two characters.
The screenplay was not flawless, however. Telling the story in flashbacks offered vast potential to reveal Jane’s agony and regret about leaving Rochester. However, little time was spent with Jane at this point in her life, the flashbacks being told chronologially, with very few flashes forward. This was a missed opportunity to do something inventive with the story.
Mia Wasikowska (Alice in Wonderland, The Kids Are Alright) certainly looks like the Jane we know from the book. Capable of showing determination and supressed passion she is convincing in the role. For me, however, Wasikowska’s Jane failed to show enough restraint at times, leaning in to Rochester’s advances a little too eagerly.
As Rochester, Michael Fassbender (X Men: First Class, Inglourious Basterds) portays the gentle and vulnerable elements of Rochester well. However, this is not sufficiently contrasted with the violent, passionate and desperate aspects of his character. Fassbender’s Rochester warms to Jane much too quickly. The story was also hampered by his being much too handsome for the role, often distracting the audience from the deeper mental attraction that drives the central romance.
On the whole, the film is visually very appealing. The countryside is raw and untamed, whilst the interior locations of Thornfield suggest the often oppressive nature of life during the Victorian era. Despite the potential this style provided for emphasising the gothic aspects of the book, the more frightening, more mysterious elements were regrettably underplayed.
Of course, it was always going to be difficult to make a screen version of Jane Eyre which rivaled my enjoyment of the book. Whilst this version hit many of the right spots early on, the relationship between Rochester and Jane ultimately lacked the necessary intensity and depth.
VERDICT:   ✪ ✪ ✪ ✪
For photos and information see Focus Features official website