Dir: Cary Joji Fukunaga, UK/USA, 2011, 121 mins
Cast: Mia Wasikowska, Michael Fassbender, Judi Dench, Jamie Bell
Review by Maria Sell
Arguably one of the most popular and well-read novels in the English literature canon, Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre has been adapted multiple times since its publication in 1847. In this latest version Cary Joji Fukunaga, known for the critically acclaimed Sin Nombre (2009), has taken to the director’s chair to bring this famous love story alive on screen once again.
After the death of her parents, Jane (Mia Wasikowska) grows up in the unloving household of her aunt Mrs Reed (Sally Hawkins) and bullying cousins. She is soon given into the care of the charity school Lowood, where she experiences friendship for the first time, but also suffers deprivation with bad meals and living conditions. Once she’s old enough she decides to leave the school and seek a position at Thornfield Hall as the governess to a French girl, Adele, the ward of the mysterious, dark Edward Rochester (Michael Fassbender). During her time at the house she finds companionship with Mr Rochester (as he is referred to) and they fall in love. However, he conceals a horrible secret and through the strange occurrences at Thornfield Hall, her happiness with him is ultimately endangered.
Wasikowska and Fassbender are well matched as the quiet, yet independent and headstrong Jane Eyre and the enigmatic, brooding but charismatic Edward Rochester. The contrast in their characters and appearances is well captured and yet their affection for one another is believable. However, their relationship does feel slightly more rushed than the novel where their affection unfolds at a more measured pace.
Judi Dench, a veteran of period dramas, is also well cast as the house keeper Alice Fairfax, who accepts Jane’s application at Thornfield and warmly welcomes her upon her arrival, helping her to settling in. Dench adds a suitable maternal touch to Fairfax’s character.
In addition to a good cast, the aesthetic throughout the film is beautiful, with the colour scheme and cinematography matching the mood of the scenes perfectly, often evoking a suitably gothic hue. In particular, the scenes where Jane finds herself alone, lost in the moors, are visually outstanding.
Scriptwriter Moira Buffini stays fairly close to the original story and although there’s certainly a necessity to condense the plot for reasons of length, it does not feel as if only key plot developments and events are ticked off. However, despite Buffini’s device of starting the film with Jane’s arrival at the Rivers family home and then going into flashback to tell the story, her time with the Rivers family still has a much more peripheral role than in the book and feels like an interlude before the ending. And as with many period dramas, little character nuances and hints are sometimes lost in translation onto the screen, such as Mrs Fairfax’s disapproval of the union between Jane and Mr Rochester.
Fukunaga might not add anything new to previous adaptations, but nevertheless this is a successful and beautiful looking film version of Jane Eyre, where the director manages to bestow on it a modern feel without infringing on the integrity of the original.