I feel as though I've been looking forward to the release of the new Jane Eyre film for ages, and the much longed-for and highly-anticipated release finally, finally arrived yesterday. People, this Jane Eyre was worth the wait, and when it finally expands into wide release, for goodness' sake go! Sure to appeal to die-hard Jane Eyre fans, this film is also a wildly accessible introduction to anyone not familiar with the beloved story.
I'm a huge fan of the 2006 Masterpiece Classic miniseries version of Jane Eyre, starring Toby Stephens as Rochester and Ruth Wilson as Jane. With a script by the brilliant Sandy Welch, that version of Jane Eyre has the luxury of a four-hour runtime wherein the intricacies and detail of Charlotte Bronte's classic novel can be explored on-screen. With a roughly two-hour timeframe with which to work for this new theatrical release, some detail is necessarily sacrificed. But similarly to Focus Features' success in bringing another classic near and dear to my heart to the big screen - Pride and Prejudice in 2005 as compared to the (in my mind, anyway) definitive miniseries from 1995 - this film retains the heart and soul of the novel, the critical story beats necessary to successfully bring Jane's story to life.
For any story detail that might be sacrificed for the sake of a manageable theatrical runtime, director Cary Fukunaga more than makes up for that by retaining the mood and atmosphere of the novel. There's a heavy reliance on the gothic elements Jane Eyre's story. This is aided by the structure of the film. Where most Jane Eyre adaptations are told in a linear fashion, following the structure of the novel from Jane's childhood to her time at Thornfield, this film is largely told in flashback. The movie opens with Jane fleeing Thornfield and Rochester following the revelation of Bertha's existence, and getting lost on the moors until alone and sick she stumbles on the home of the Rivers family. From there, as she recovers, we see her childhood with the Reeds, time at Lowood School, and arrival at Thornfield told in flashback as she recovers. It's an unusual structure, but given the limitations of the film's runtime I think it's an effective way to include as much of Jane's past as possible.
The success of any Jane Eyre adaptation rests, for me, on the casting of Jane and Rochester. More than anything else, more than any other character, more than the setting, I have to click with Jane and Rochester. I have to become as emotionally invested with their love story on-screen as I do when reading the novel. Happily, I absolutely love Mia Wasikowska as Jane and Michael Fassbender as Rochester. Wasikowska first came to my attention when I saw her play Alice in Tim Burton's gorgeous re-imagining of Alice in Wonderland (my review). At 22, she is perhaps the closest in age to Jane in the novel than any other actress who's brought the character to life on-screen. She handles the role masterfully, balancing Jane's youthfulness and maturity with seasoned aplomb. Her best scenes are perhaps the proposal - her transition from disbelief, anger, and frustration with Rochester gradually gives way with glorious abandon when she accepts that he loves her - and the moment when Rochester on his knees is begging her to stay, and she refuses. The strength and emotion with which Wasikowska infuses that scene is breathtakingly powerful. She's definitely an actress to watch.
I loved Michael Fassbender as Rochester. He doesn't quite knock Toby Stephens' portrayal of Bronte's enigmatic leading man from the top spot in my Rochester ranking, but that's in large part due to the fact that he has less screen time to work with. What I wouldn't give to see Fassbender and Wasikowska in a sprawling, four hour version of Jane Eyre. *sigh* The possibilities, oh the possibilities. :) For a piece that relies on atmosphere as much as this film does, Fassbender embraces his turn as a tortured, Byronic hero with relish. His Rochester has an edgy, dangerous, unpredictable edge, and in his all-too-brief scenes with Jane (I just wanted more...those scenes could've gone on forever), Fassbender has an intense, eager quality, latching onto Jane's every word. She's a puzzle he's desperate to solve, and the energy Fassbender brings to those scenes imbue Rochester's interactions with Jane with a subtlety and a romanticism that I quite simply adored. And of course it didn't hurt that the man has a fabulous voice. The script does him a HUGE favor by retaining much of the novel's most well-known and beloved dialogue, and hearing Fassbender bring that to life worked for me on every level imaginable. :) And Fassbender can say more with his eyes than most actors could do with pages and pages of dialogue - well played sir, very well played.
It was such a treat to see Judi Dench as Thornfield's housekeeper, Mrs. Fairfax. Dench brought a wonderful warmth to her scenes opposite Wasikowska. Her Mrs. Fairfax is loving, loyal, and capable - and quite long-suffering when it comes to putting up with Rochester's capricious moods. My favorite scene is probably when she meets Jane in the burned-out shell of Thornfield at the end of the film. She's so clearly grateful to see Jane alive and well, and her apology of sorts - assuring Jane that she didn't know Rochester was married, that she would've helped Jane leave Thornfield - was extremely well-played. Though brief, Dench plays Mrs. Fairfax's relationship with Jane with more of a mothering quality than I can recall seeing in prior film versions that I really liked. Who wouldn't want Dame Judi in your corner? :)
Sally Hawkins was a surprisingly terrifying Mrs. Reed. It's hard to believe that just a few years ago she was playing a romantic lead in the Masterpiece Classic version of Persuasion (my review). I don't know if it was the costumes and hairstyle, or if Hawkins has lost some weight, or a combination of factors, but her face had this awful cadaver-like look that nicely played into disliking the character of Mrs. Reed (as if a viewer needs any help doing that). Speaking of Jane's youth, I will go ahead and mention that Amelia Clarkson's turn as the young Jane was really well done. Not only was she a passing good match for a young Wasikowska, but she was quite impressive as Jane the child. Her strength was wholly believable, and in Jane's scenes at the Reed home and then Lowood, Clarkson had an arresting screen presence. She could definitely be an actress to watch as she grows up and matures.
The Rivers family was made up of a trio of familiar faces. Sister Diana was played by Holliday Granger, who has appeared in everything from Merlin to Any Human Heart. But most memorably for me, she was largely responsible for one of the best Guy-centric episodes in Robin Hood - the season three ep "A Dangerous Deal" (my review). Sister Mary was played by Tamzin Merchant, whose first film role, interestingly enough, was as Georgiana Darcy in the 2005 film version of Pride and Prejudice. The largely thankless role of their clergyman brother St. John Rivers falls to Jamie Bell. Poor Jame. *sigh* I'm a huge fan of his work - he's made memorable appearances in everything from Nicholas Nickleby as Smike, to brother Asael Bielski in Defiance, to Esca in The Eagle. But even he in all his fabulousness can't make St. John any less...well, odd comes to mind. It was interesting to observe the audience's reaction to St. John's high-handed speeches to Jane and expectations of her future in his missionary work. Goodness, even when you know what's coming the urge to smack St. John upside the head is nearly overpowering.
There's one or two more casting point I simply must mention - Bertha's brother, Richard Mason, is played by none other than Robin Hood's own Harry Lloyd, the one-time Will Scarlett. Goodness did he ever look awful and half mad himself like his poor on-screen sister. I also thought that Imogen Poots did a fine job with the role of Blanche Ingram. I cannot TELL you how refreshing it was to see a Blanche who is a brunette - it seems that she's always portrayed as a blonde in film versions of Jane Eyre. Poots may look familiar to fans of the film Me and Orson Welles, where she played Lorelei Lathrop, or Miss Austen Regrets, where she took on the role of Fanny Knight.
The entire film crew, from the art department to the cinematographer to the wardrobe department deserve major kudos for bringing director Fukunaga's moody, absorbing vision of Jane Eyre's world to life. I especially loved all of the Thornfield Hall scenes - this may be my favorite Thornfield ever captured on film. With its rich, dark wood panelling and twisting hallways, this film gives us a worthy gothic setting for Bertha's cries in the night and Rochester's dark moods. And the use of darkness and shadow and light - oh my, every frame of this film is carefully constructed to set the mood and help tell the story.
Dario Marianelli contributed the score, and people it is BRILLIANT. Marianelli also wrote the scores for Atonement and Pride and Prejudice, and given that track record and the work he produced for Jane Eyre, I wouldn't be surprised at all if he wins a third Oscar for his work on this film. He'd better at least be nominated! Instead of featuring piano solos (as he did in Pride and Prejudice), for Jane Eyre Marianelli showcases the violin, which for the record may be my favorite instrument. I don't think anything else could be more suited to bring musical life to Jane and Rochester's world, with its ability to be gorgeous, poignant, and moody, tugging on the heartstrings with every note. This soundtrack features performances by violinist Jack Liebeck, who could easily give Joshua Bell a run for his money after hearing his work on this film. You can purchase the soundtrack on CD or MP3 download through Amazon - if you're a fan of gorgeous film scores as I am, it's a must-have!
I have to talk about the ending of this film, which was definitely unexpected. After obtaining Rochester's location from Mrs. Fairfax, Jane arrives to find him sitting alone and looking suitably moody, with only his dog Pilot for company. I loved the fact that Fassbender's hair was long and wild, and that he sported a beard for the scene - it was an extra touch that made him look rougher and more unkempt than many other Rochesters have played the reunion scene. When Jane tells him she's returned, and they embrace, the moment is gorgeous, shot through with the tension of romantic hopes at long last realized. When Rochester wonders if he's still dreaming, there's this heartbeat of a moment where I swear I didn't breathe, then Jane bids him wake - and the film ends. Unexpectedly abrupt, and the more I've thought about it, the more I have to give the director credit for making such a bold choice to end the film in such a way. That whole last scene was beautifully executed, from Wasikowska and Fassbender's tender performances to the breath-taking use of lighting. It's as if we're finally witnessing Jane and Rochester awake from the tortured dream of life that's conspired to keep them apart - and past that moment everything is left to the imagination of the viewer.
I'm currently re-reading the novel for the first time in several years. Sadly I was unable to get that accomplished prior to seeing this film, but since I plan to see the movie again in theaters if at all possible, hopefully I will have finished the book by then so I can have the entire novel fresh in my mind for further comparisons. Shocking, I know, that I'd be willing to see this film more than once... *wink*
I desperately hope that this ridiculously long, picture-heavy post will inspire you to rush out and see Jane Eyre the second it opens in your area - it is SO worth the ticket price. And thanks to everyone who commented on my last post, kicking off the All Things Jane celebration - I hope I'll be able to spotlight some books and films old-time and new fans of Jane Eyre will enjoy. :)