At a Q&A following a special advanced screening of the latest feature film adaptation of Charlotte Bronte’s novel, director Cary Fukunaga joked that a new Jane Eyre should be released every five years (Star Mia Wasikowska kidded around too and said she’d like to play Bertha in the next one—If you read the book, you should know). Fukunaga’s version, however, is profound enough to fill in the gap for ten years. I only say that as viewing it as a standalone film, as I personally haven’t seen any of the other versions or even read the book, nor by my own admission am I smitten with period films. But as a casual moviewatcher, the latest vision of the literary masterpiece is beautiful, bold, and bound to be appreciated, especially by devotees of British literature and movie adaptations alike.
The film opens with a visibly distressed Jane (Played by Wasikowska) struggling to find shelter in a heavy rain storm, eventually arriving at the front door of St. John Rivers (Jamie Bell) and his sisters. And so begins a travel back in time exploring the whereabouts of the mysterious Jane and how she arrived in bent and saddened shape at the home of strangers. It begins with a look into her troubled and tragic childhood—becoming orphaned, suffering abuse by her relatives, being shamed by school officials, and losing her only friend. Almost a decade later, she receives a letter from a Mrs. Alice Fairfax (Judi Dench) to become a governess to a French girl at Thornfield Hall. Thereafter, Jane captures the attention of the master, Edward Rochester (Michael Fassbender). Even though she returns his feelings, she can not go against her own morals when the secret that Rochester has tucked away becomes uncovered.
At a running time of almost two hours, the film can feel much longer for those who are disinterested. But the elements that have made Jane Eyre the novel so well-renowned and adored—a harsh but honest analysis of English society, a sense of suspense in its Gothic horror themes, and its forbidden love story—translate vividly and with spark on the big screen. For a groomed 19th century piece with polished dialogue and stunning cinematography, costumes, and set design all true to the period, Fukunaga also manages to invoke a 21st century flair, particularly in shooting suspenseful scenes. When Jane explores strange noises within the house, it feels more like a modern scary movie than a sewn-up drama.
But when there is drama, the actors convey it loudly enough for the audience to feel, yet without being campy. Sometimes the most emotional scenes are without words—mere close-up and medium shots of Jane’s expressions as she’s battling household terror or her own will to escape despite Rochester’s desperation are breathtakingly haunting.
The character exploration of the protagonist and her relationship with her employer are incredibly compelling. All the childhood events are portrayed with shocking and heartbreaking intensity, and everything following are lively new chapters for a young woman trying to gain control of her life. What especially makes Jane Eyre an admirable heroine is her strength and morality, not pursuing romance with Rochester until he can get his own troubles sorted out and until she herself can acquire her own inheritance. Both Jane and Rochester sometimes come off as overly persistent (My nice way of saying “annoying”) in this film, but for the believers of true romance, there is a bittersweet ending.
While the newest incarnation of Jane Eyre can fall flat at times, it is still a lovely film that should meet expectations and justify the anticipation as one of 2011’s early finest. The darkness may overshadow the pretty. Despite it, there is much elegance in the way it looks and in the way the stories are told.
OVERALL SCORE: 7.5/10