Jane Eyre

Written by:
Renata Polt
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Jane Eyre (2011)

Directed by Cary Fukunaga
Written by Moira Buffini
Starring: Mia Wasikowska, Michael Fassbender, Judi Dench, Jamie Bell
Run Time: 115 minutes
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13


Cary Fukunaga’s new adaptation of Charlotte Brontë’s “Jane Eyre” is simply terrific. But if you’ve lived this far without ever reading the 1847 novel or seeing any of its 18 feature film or 9 TV adaptations, then stop reading now, because this review is full of spoilers.

Okay, now for the rest of you:

Why bother to make another “Jane Eyre”? Well, why not? Especially when a director as talented as Fukunaga (“Sin Nombre”) and stars as able as Mia Wasikowska (“In Treatment,” “The Kids Are All Right”) and Michael Fassbender (“Inglourious Basterds”) are available? Not to mention Judi Dench (who needs no credits) and Jamie Bell (we saw him first as Billy Elliot). Moira Buffini wrote the script, and Dario Marianelli composed the atmospheric music.

So let’s cut to the chase.

This “Jane” begins in medias res-not with Jane’s miserable childhood, as in the novel, but with her flight from Thornfield Manor and arrival at the home of St. John Rivers (Bell) and his sisters. Most of the rest of the story is related in flashbacks: Jane’s childhood in the home of her vicious aunt, Mrs. Reed (“Happy-Go-Lucky”‘s Sally Hawkins); Jane’s years at Lowood School; then her appointment at Thornfield Manor as governess to Adèle, the “ward” of the mysterious Mr. Rochester, who suddenly appears out of the mist on horseback-or rather, thrown from his horse’s back. The chronological creativity may disturb some, but in fact it works to pull us in: who is this mysterious young woman desperately stumbling across the foggy moors? What is she fleeing from?

Visually, the film is exquisite: the voluptuous fabrics of Mrs. Reed’s dresses (contrasting with her mean nature); the grayness of Lowood School, where Jane is cruelly punished for accidentally breaking a slate, but where she finds her first friend; the bleakness of the moors; the simplicity of the Rivers home; Thornfield Manor’s gloom and isolation. The lighting is extraordinary throughout.

“Jane Eyre” shares many of the qualities of the Gothic novel popular in its time-terror, madness, ominous atmosphere, gloomy weather-and the new version makes the most of them without laying the terror on too thick.

Mia Wasikowska’s Jane is brave and outspoken; she chafes against the limitations of women’s lives and stands up to Rochester’s arrogance. Wasikowska is indeed, as Jane describes herself, plain, or at least unglamorous-unlike Joan Fontaine in the classic 1944 version, who aroused giggles when describing herself as plain. (That version also featured Margaret O’Brien and Elizabeth Taylor-not to mention Orson Welles, as the forever iconic Mr. Rochester.)

As for Rochester, Michael Fassbender is a hunk, with a strong chin and black eyebrows, the better to express the character’s black moods. Any sensible modern woman would tell Jane to run as fast as she could from this quixotic and manipulative (not to say lying and deceitful) man; but, of course, things end happily, more or less-more happily in the film than in the novel.

What I missed was the novel’s first-person narration, which puts us inside our heroine’s fluttering but determined heart. The film ends too abruptly, without the novel’s lovely coda; and it also lacks Brontë’s most famous line: “Reader, I married him.”

You can’t have everything.


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