taking on quite a challenge to make a movie version of one of the classic
novels of British literature – particularly one as ubiquitous as Jane
Eyre. Much more than the average film, you have to live up to very
heightened expectations. After all, generations of readers have mental
pictures of what happened in Thornfield Hall. You
don’t want to tweak the story too much or you are stuck with a stinker like
Demi Moore’s version of The Scarlet Letter. Yet, if you don’t bring
something different to the table, what’s the point of even making
on the simplest level of comparison, the makers of the new version of
Jane Eyre have their work cut out for them. According to the press
notes for this film, Charlotte Bronte’s 1849 novel has already been turned
into a motion picture a whopping 19 times – and that isn’t even counting the
many television productions, stage and radio plays of the story. Therefore,
not only are the filmmakers competing against the public’s view of the book,
they are also up against all the other versions of the story which have
20th version of the novel is faithful to the crux of the story; however they
do tweak it in certain ways, which mostly work.
example, the basic story structure is slightly redone. The movie starts
with certain scenes that actually happen pretty late in the novel, and then
doubles back to the earlier parts of the novel, essentially telling those in
is mostly a wise choice – as the filmmakers point out 2/3 of the way through
the book a whole new set of characters just suddenly appear, which can work
in literature, but feels awkward on film, so they moved those characters up
front and center. That said, the actual point where they flash back to
Jane’s childhood and then forward again for several years (but still before
the opening scenes) gets a little confusing – the viewer gets lost as to
where they are in place and time for a little bit in the early going.
other main tweak is that the new film decides to play up the gothic mystery
at the heart of the novel, making it a bit creepier and darker than most
is also a savvy storytelling move. It tends to bring a bit of intrigue to
some of the novel’s more creaky parts – naturally, a novel so old does have
a different pace and timbre from more current fare. Some of it is even a
bit hard to relate to in the modern world. When was the last time you saw a
movie about a female protagonist who has no other aspirations than to find
However, this novel became a classic for a reason and mostly it works
extremely well in this retelling. The occasional problems which are almost
inevitable with such an aged story – like the slightly overwrought ending
and the fact that much of the action in the final act takes place offscreen
and is only recounted to the heroine after the fact – are made up for by the
sumptuous locations (most of it was filmed in a real castle), the stellar
acting and the obvious passion of all involved.
the title role, Wasikowska, a young Australian actress who has now played
two of the iconic characters in British literature before her 22nd
birthday (last year she also starred as the title role in Tim Burton’s
Alice in Wonderland) proves that she is more than up to the task of
taking on such a treasured role. Michael Fassbinder makes a dashing
Rochester (though he may be a little handsome for the role, which according
to the novel is supposed to be a very plain man). And as always, Dame Judi
Dench brings her gravitas and talent to the role of Mrs. Fairfax, the
keeper of the castle who discreetly knows all the
secrets inside the walls.
Jane Eyre is
also a bit of surprising choice as the second film by director Cary Fukunaga,
who previously made the gritty Latin American crime drama Sin Nombre.
Fukunaga gives the story a bit of a sense of danger and gothic gloom that is
in the novel but often missing in the adaptations.
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2011 PopEntertainment.com.
All rights reserved. Posted: March 11, 2011.