Jane Eyre

Art & Culture

There have been several screen versions (cinema and TV) of Charlotte Bronte’s 150 year old novel. But if there’s been a better one than this, I’d like to see it. This is a wonderful film that had me gripped from start to finish.

I don’t think I’ll be giving too much away if I say that the story of Jane Eyre centres around her passionate relationship with Mr Rochester, the older man for whom she works as a governess. He is grand, wealthy, melancholic and enraged with the world for the hand it has dealt him – chained to a mad wife. Jane, a mere 19 year old who has been scorned and mistreated her whole life, still has an integrity and self-possessed calm that Rochester finds irresistible, especially because she will not succumb to his offers of an affair. 

Then there is St John Rivers, the worthy vicar with two nice sisters, who give her shelter and a home when she flees Rochester’s house (Thornfield) after the inevitable happens. There is arson, murder, suicide, brutality and a fortune that conveniently arrives in the nick of time. In fact, the plot is as cheesy as they come, a Gothic romance which is the direct ancestor of Georgette Heyer and any number of silly romantic books. But Jane Eyre is not a silly book, nor a superficial person. She is one of the great heroines of fiction, and Cary Fukunaga’s film more than does justice to the original.

Watching the film, I was unable to find fault with it. Not that I wanted to. It’s just that so often when I watch a film, even if I’m enjoying it, I often find that it falls short of its own high standards at some point. Not here. Fukunaga takes a few liberties with the script – the film opens with Jane fleeing Thornfield, and then circles back round to that point again, before the dramatic climax; and a few less-than-important plot points are omitted. But the essence is all there. A grand romantic tragedy, which is as full blooded and passionate as you could wish. The camerawork creates a sense of intimacy, but also of menace, with the landscape playing a crucial role. The lighting is as realistic as you could hope for, with rooms illuminated by the odd guttering candle, and even the outdoors being often gloomy and unwelcoming.

But it’s the actors who make the whole thing work. Mia Wasikowska has done Victorian fiction before (in the title role of Tim Burton’s dreadful Alice), but here she truly is a heroine to admire and empathise with. She is suitably plain, but without a shred of self pity or false humility. She knows her own worth and will uphold it against all comers, even the man she loves. Rochester in turn is played by Michael Fassbender, possibly too handsome for the part, but with a wild intensity that makes him an equal match for her. In other words, you can see why they fall in love with each other, and why we want them to be together whatever the obstacles in the way of age, class, money and previous engagements.

I’m glad to see this is getting multiplex screenings as well as arthouse. I would love everyone to go and see it. It would be a great date movie, and whatever men might think, this is as much a film for them as for women. It’s a wonderful achievement.


Phil Raby

Front Row Films

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