We have a winner! The proud holder of the title of Lord of Being Great is Ari, a fellow book blogger and bonnet enthusiast from the US. Those lucky people over in America-land have already seen the new film of Jane Eyre, released here on the 9th of September. Ari has been kind enough to review it for us. Check out her very fab blog, Lit Lovers and Corset Laces, for more booky thoughts and plenty of Rochester.
I remember picking up Jane Eyre for the first time when I was thirteen (yes, that was only three years ago, but it seems like an eternity). I’d sit in my bed every evening and pour through pages describing the girl orphaned as a baby and cast out into a harsh world at the age of ten. I read vigorously as I watched that abandoned child’s transformation into a resilient teenager unravel itself with each turning of the page. I remember admiring the eighteen-year-old girl that fixes a daring stare to the eyes of Rochester (a man twice her age) and blows convention to the wind by entertaining deep and fervent conversation with that same man who handles her paycheck. And of course, I remember sighing contentedly when that man falls in love with her and asks for her hand in marriage.
But this is also the novel that impressed my thirteen-year-old brain with the reality that love isn’t a fairytale. I was brought to tears as I saw my new favorite literary heroine forced to flee by the secrets of Rochester’s past that unfold themselves at no other time than when she’s standing at the altar with him. Jane escapes, seeks to rebuild a new life, and must now face the question of whether she can return to her prior state of habitual loveless solitude after catching a glimpse of what a life of fervent passion could offer.
A solemn obsession with the novel wedged itself into my heart after I closed the back cover, and the only thing one can do when faced with that kind of obsession with a novel is look for a film adaptation. For any Jane Eyre fan, this is easily done. The book holds the record for being the novel with the largest amount of film and TV adaptions. Pawing through almost every existing adaption (amounting to nearly twenty), I couldn’t find one that satisfied my vision of the novel. I threw my hands up and ceased to look anymore, and just when I was ready to submit to defeat, I stumbled across the site crying “Wasikowska and Fassbender join new Jane Eyre.”
After months of waiting, I sat down in an art-house theatre seat brimming over with anticipation and excitement. Alice in Wonderland’s Mia Wasikowska steps onto the screen to play the renowned literary heroine, Jane Eyre. The fact that we see her face on the screen before any other is what’s so surprising. Director Cary Fukunaga’s newest version of Jane Eyre takes a brand new approach to the plot by telling the story in media res. So instead of seeing Amelia Clarkson’s face portraying young Jane as the first frame, the audience is thrown straight into the climax of the story and then catapulted back into Jane’s childhood through the use of the flashbacks in her memories. The approach was both refreshing and exciting, adding an immediate emotional intensity to the film that no other adaption had.
Mia Wasikowska’s Jane is one of the best portrayed on screen. Not only is the actress the youngest to play the part and the closest in age to the character, but she also blends the innocent curiosity and yet natural maturity of the character perfectly. The key to Mia’s performance is its subtlety. Jane’s thoughts are conveyed through each flash of the eye and gesture of the body in a leading role where spoken lines are actually few. Wasikowska’s portrayal of Jane dwells heavily on the character’s unsaid thoughts and emotions. However, Wasikowska also delivers a fair serving of directness in her lines. Her words are sharp to the point of incisive, and decidedly straightforward. I can almost hear Jane’s thoughts saying, “You asked a question; I gave you an answer.”
Michael Fassbender’s Rochester matches her every step of the way. Fassbender nails the gloomy and acerbic master of Thornfield Hall without even a speck of doubt. The intensely probing and sullenly haunted take on his character balances the frank and matter-of-factly manner of Wasikowska’s Jane. The two characters are much more like nemeses at first than they are lovers, capturing the essence of Jane and Rochester’s relationship in the novel to a tee. When it comes to the transformation from pointed conversation to loving glances, Fassbender and Mia deliver beautifully, impressing the audience with the truth of Jane and Rochester’s physical chemistry as well as the emotional and intellectual. The two cement a great onscreen bond and when Jane’s departure threatens to break it, both actors completely define the scene with a power and passion that will certainly send tears running to your eyes.
At the center of Jane Eyre is the progression of the main character, but the novel is also a book that dwells heavily on the intricacies of relationships. This doesn’t pertain only to Jane’s relationship with Rochester, but with other characters such as her cousin St. John rivers, her aunt Mrs. Reed, and her friend Mrs. Fairfax. Therefore, the portrayal of the minor characters in the novel weigh just as much as the two leads. Jamie Bell steps up to play clergyman St. John Rivers, Jane’s complement and Rochester’s foil. The young man delivers a dutiful and moral, and yet emotionally icy performance that matches the essence of the character in the novel (though he is decidedly younger). Wonderful actress Sally Hawkins makes a quick and yet impressive appearance as Jane’s coldhearted aunt, Mrs. Reed, convincingly portraying the sweet little lady with a heart of stone. As for Judi Dench’s delivery of the maternal and “simple-minded” Mrs. Fairfax: she ultimately defines the role.
The beauty with which the characters are portrayed is strengthened by the dark and resounding cinematography provided by Adriano Goldman. Through the flicker of candles and bleakness of the expansive moors surrounding Jane’s isolation, the tone and climate of the novel’s setting are perfectly captured in a way that especially highlights the subliminal gothic atmosphere in the book. That intense darkness and riveting passion is further depicted through a resonating score by composer Dario Marianelli, which is sure to be in talks for the Oscars if the early release of the film doesn’t blot it out of memory.
Oh yes, this version of Jane Eyre is really that good! It’s a hard job to condense a five hundred-page novel into a two-hour window frame, but Cary Fukunaga’s direction and Moira Buffini’s fresh and yet faithful screenplay work together to interpret the spirit of the book that will play to new audiences as well as traditional Jane Eyre diehards. It may not be a fanatic’s favorite (though it is decidedly mine), but it most definitely deserves a watch and even those who are not familiar with a book may find a new love for the powerful and penetrating tale. Give it a try!
Grade: 4 and ½ out of five stars.