The Critics in Film: Jane Eyre

Reviewed by Emma K. Gold

Not a plain Jane.

           

Cast & Credits

Directed by: Cary Joji Fukunaga.

With Mia Wasikowska (Jane Eyre), Michael Fassbender (Edward Rochester), Jamie Bell (St. John Rivers), and Judi Dench (Mrs Fairfax).

Written by: Moira Buffini

 

Released by Focus Features

Running Time: 121 minutes. Rated PG-13 (for thematic element including brief violent content and a nude image).

 

Jane Eyre is a truly timeless tale; written by Charlotte Bronte in 1847, the novel is wildly popular and draws much the same audience as Jane Austen’s work.  There have been over a dozen film adaptations of the story so it’s difficult to imagine how this Jane film could be new.  Surprisingly, screenwriter Moira Buffini and director Cary Fukunaga manage to breathe new life into the old story and recreate a classic tale without feeling trite.

The biggest difference between this adaptation and others is the structure of the narrative.  Most film versions of Jane Eyre begin at the beginning, following Jane from the time she was a little girl through her school years until she becomes employed at Thornfield Hall and meets Edward Rochester.  In the new adaptation, the audience meets Jane in the middle of her story, immediately before she is rescued by St. John Rivers.  By changing the beginning of the story, suspense is maintained throughout the narrative and the dragging beginning of the novel, and many film adaptations, is avoided.

Suspense is the name of the game in this particular version of Jane Eyre.  The creepiness of the story is something film adaptations often miss but by maintaining that aspect of the narrative, Buffini and Fukunga connect the film to the current trend of dark romantic fiction.  Perhaps the resurgence of dark romantic popular literature is what allowed for this particular adaptation of Jane in the first place.  After all, the Brontes are the original queens of the dark and tragic tales of love and woe.

Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender both fit their roles of Jane and Edward wonderfully, although perhaps Fassbender is a little too handsome to play the decidedly average-looking Rochester.  Wasikowska’s Jane is stoic and reserved, as she should be, with appropriate hints of passion, but her chemistry with Fassbender seems a little fickle.  There was a spark between them once or twice but not nearly as much as there could have been.

Overall, Fukunga’s Jane Eyre is a fine work of film, capably acted and with breathtaking locations and costumes and a refreshingly original take on a familiar story.  It’s definitely worth seeing, especially if one is a fan of either the novel or its various film adaptations, but it’s unlikely to inspire much passion in the viewer and not a prime candidate for the definitive film version of Jane Eyre.

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