Review: Jane Eyre


Directed by: Cary Fukunaga
Written by:Moira Buffini
Starring: Mia Wasikowska, Michael Fassbender, Jamie Bell, Judi Dench, Sally Hawkins, Simon McBurney
Released: August 11, 2011
Grade: A-

A search of the Internet Movie Database lists 21 results for the title “Jane Eyre”.  Starting as far back as 1910, Charlotte Bronte’s much loved book has regularly been adapted for both the small and big screen.  Aside from Shakespeare’s most popular works (Romeo & Juliet, Hamlet), I’m struggling to think of another novel that has received so many adaptations.

This begs the question – why make Jane Eyre into a movie yet again?  The best metaphor I can come up with involves cars.  When we buy a brand new vehicle, we tend to take a lot of pleasure from it.  It’s exciting to be driving around in something new.  Over time, that pleasure slowly fades away.  We become accustomed to the car and it becomes more functional in nature.  The only way to lift our excitement levels is to buy a new car!

That’s the case here.  I could easily head down to my video store and rent the 1996 movie version starring Charlotte Gainsbourg or the 2006 BBC mini-series starring Ruth Wilson.  That’s not what I want however.  I’d rather check out a fresh adaptation through the eyes of a different director.  I’d also like to see if this well-chosen cast can impart their own perspective on these famous characters.

To quickly bring those unfamiliar up to speed, the story is set in the mid 19th century and centres on an 18-year-old named Jane Eyre (Wasikowska) who has left a troubled past behind and has accepted a job as a governess at the beautiful Thornfield Hall.  The master of the house is the dashing Edward Rochester (Fassbender) and he asks that Jane help educate a young French girl who has been assigned to his keeping.

There is an instant connection between Edward and Jane but both are unsure about how to deal with the situation.  Jane comes from a poor background and she can’t understand why a man with such a high social status would be interested in the affections of a lowly governess.  Her lack of experience with men further compounds her reluctance and insecurity.

Edward is much clearer with his desires and has become entranced by Jane’s simple beauty and candid honesty.  Unfortunately, he can’t find a way through to her well-guarded heart.  A series of strange events and the arrival of unexpected guests will make his efforts even more difficult.

The story is a little too compact at times but the exquisite performance of Mia Wasikowska makes this film stand out.  I’ve been following Wasikowska for the past 2 years having seen her in the great HBO television series In Treatment and in films such as Alice In Wonderland and The Kids Are All Right.  Through her timid demeanour, she beautifully illustrates the tortured, fragile nature of her character.  Those who have experienced the perils of unrequited love will know exactly how she feels.

With its striking set decoration and costumes, director Cary Fukunaga has crafted a worthy adaptation of Bronte’s novel.  This will be enjoyed by those with a fondness for period piece romances.