If I have to describe the plot of Jane Eyre in great detail, I’m not entirely sure why we’re blog-friends. Jane was raised in a home where she was loved by her uncle, but despised by her aunt. Upon her uncle’s death, her aunt Mrs. Reed sends her off to a strict school. There Jane grows up and trains to be a governess. Her first position is with Mr. Rochester teaching his French ward. Jane grows close to Adele and in turn, to Mr. Rochester. But a secret hides in the dark corners of Thornfield Hall.
I came to this version with a lot of skepticism. I was first introduced to Jane Eyre with the ’96 film version, which was very good. It hit the main points of the novel, it flowed nicely, and the acting was good. Having read the book a few times, I hold the story close to my heart. The real version to beat, for me, is the 6 hour miniseries that aired in 2006. It is beautifully done with fantastic acting and a palpable passion between the leads.
Wasikowska fell flat. Jane is quiet and reserved, but underneath her kindness lay a fire that burns brightly, especially for Mr. Rochester. Fassbender was working hard to draw it out, and he did a superb job at his character (definitely the most attractive Mr. Rochester to date), but his Jane was altogether too quiet, too timid. There were moments in the movie that you could see Wasikowska might have had it in her, and I am not sure if the fault lay with the director or with the actress. I have always loved Jane because she carried herself with quiet confidence. She was kind and noble, but she was not willing to be put aside and forgotten. There is a line in the book, and in the movie, where she mentions that she must and can be free. But it is not delivered with any kind of passion.
As I said, Fassbender proved to be a good Rochester. He really expresses the man’s inability to forget a mentally ill wife and his struggle to come to terms with what has been dealt to him by life. He would have been better had there been more time to really get to know him.
That was probably the most irksome thing about this movie for me – there was no time. Things moved quickly through parts I felt were important, and the flow felt disrupted because of it. The framing device the filmmaker chose was especially unfortunate. They open with Jane running away from Thornfield and being discovered by St. John and his sisters. I have always disliked St. John anyway, and so the fact that they spent so much time dwelling on Jane’s time with him and the girls was frustrating. Yes, we see how Jane copes without the passionate romance, but we also don’t get enough time to really believe in the romance because of it. Make the movie a little longer and give it the time to prove to your audience why these two were really meant to be.
I did find the dark lighting of the scenes to be perfect. I swear the movie is not that bad that I can only praise the lighting, but the lighting really does lend itself to the Gothic origins of the novel. Realistic of the times? Sure. But what it really does is create that dark, brooding atmosphere and so well reflects Rochester’s character.
I know it is hard to compete with a miniseries, where each vital part of the story is allowed to be kept in. And I understand why this version did away with some of the background information – including why Rochester cared for Adele. However, I do believe that you can make a faithful adaptation in just a couple of hours. Take Pride and Prejudice, for example. While I enjoy the five hour miniseries, I actually feel the 2 hour Keira Knightley version was better done. Maybe not to all the little plot points of the novel, but certainly to the spirit of it. The miniseries plays much too seriously and without the jesting spirit that makes P&P one of the best novels in its genre. With little time, the Knightley version does a much better job of understanding its source material and getting its point across. It could have been that with this version of Jane Eyre, if only they had understood their main character a little bit more.