We weren’t really sure how to feel about yet another version of the classic Charlotte Brontë novel. On the one hand, it’s a story that’s been told many, many times. On the other, the calibre of the talent involved is difficult to ignore. We didn’t know what to expect.
As a child, Jane (Amelia Clarkson) is sent to a brutally strict Christian boarding school by her wicked aunt Mrs Reid (Sally Hawkins). When she’s 19 (and turned into Mia Wasikowska) she is hired to work as a governess at Thornfield Hall, home of the the cruel-humoured and bitter Rochester (Michael Fassbender). Slowly, Rochester warms to Jane, and she to him. But what is the reason behind his foul tempers, not to mention the strange noises in the night?
This isn’t a radical reimaging of the text, but it’s not a stuffy costume drama either. A combination of beautiful photography and clever casting has brought the film to vibrant life and any fears we had of a crushingly dull period romance were quickly dispelled. From the opening shots of Jane fleeing across the windswept, stormy moors, it’s clear that director Cary Fukunaga (Sín Nombre) has a fantastic eye. It’s a beautiful film that stays just on the right side of overly romanticised.
The script by Moira Buffini does an excellent job of condensing Brontë’s novel into two hours. Things move quickly but not hurriedly. We spend enough time with young Jane for her honest reserve as an adult to make sense. Jane is impressively played both by Clarkson as the forthright child and Wasikowska as an adult. The latter doesn’t give a big, showy performance but rather a measured, nuanced turn. She also spars wonderfully with the continually impressive Fassbender (last seen moving metal in X-Men: First Class), who finds a dark humour in his brooding, tightly-trousered Rochester. The supporting cast is impeccable, with Judi Dench as the kindly housekeeper, Sally Hawkins (Submarine) as the icily evil Mrs Reed, and Jamie Bell as the missionary who takes Jane in.
For all the focus on scenery and romance, it’s good to see that Fukunaga doesn’t shy away from the book’s Gothic trappings. Scenes of Jane wondering the dark corridors of Thornfield with nothing but a candle are wonderfully creepy, and the adults of Jane’s childhood are almost unbelievably cruel. The revelation of Mr. Rochester’s dark secret could have been played up a little more, but it works well enough. The budding romance between Jane and Rochester does perhaps bud a little too quickly, but that’s almost certainly a consequence of the not having a punishing running time. While it won’t change the way you see Jane Eyre, it’s a very enjoyable reminder of why filmmakers keep going back to it.
This is an excellent adaptation. Despite the over-familiarity of the source material, it’s beautiful to look at, well-adapted, and excellently performed.