by Erin Thursby
Condensing a well-known book into a movie isn’t an easy task. But this was the task before screenwriter Moira Buffini and director Cary Fukunaga in this most recent adaptation of Jane Eyre.
It was a success, capturing the spirit and tone of book. Buffini mostly has the movie play in flashbacks and, unlike others, doesn’t scrap the all-important time in the River home, keeping intact the impact of Jane’s answer to Sinjin’s offer. There is still difficulty in the distillation, because everyone will have a favorite moment from the book (or other adaptations) that gets missed. In any case, the screenwriter smartly hits the things that are important to character development. Director Cary Fukunaga enlarges the Gothic elements of the mood, this sense of impending doom at Thornfield Hall, without being too explicit.
Actress Mia Wasikowska carries the title role with a sturdy innocence, punctuated by passion. Jane is a hard role to play because she must be reserved, with hint of a vast imaginings beneath the surface. She’s still Hollywood plain rather than ordinary-every-day plain, but she’s certainly better cast than Ruth Wilson, who was far too pretty for the role in the 2006 BBC miniseries.
But if we are to compare this Jane Eyre not to miniseries, which have the advantage of having more time to tell their stories, but to other movie adaptations, then Fukunaga’s effort comes out ahead. It’s certainly much better than Zeffirelli’s 1996 version, which compressed the ending so much that it felt strained.
Mr. Rochester, both in casting and in dialogue, is handled well. The combination of volatility, charm, raw pain and emo melancholy brought to the part by Michael Fassbender (best known for his role in Inglourious Basterds) helps the viewer believe in Jane’s love for him. Fassbender has a way of asking for things that makes you trust in him completely, despite his bouts of moodiness. He’s also easy on the eyes, whatever his and other character’s protestations to the contrary. His plainness is more of an informed attribute than an actual one.
Judi Dench takes on the role of Mrs. Fairfax, Thornfield’s housekeeper. She is, of course magnificent, a lonely, warm-hearted, motherly gossip who says more in one look than most actresses can say in a soliloquy.
As is always the case in Jane Eyre adaptations, the moor and Thornfield play their parts. The choice for Thornfield was Haddon Hall. This Medieval Hall has been onscreen many times, most notably in this case, for other Jane Eyre movies and miniseries. You may also recognize it from The Princess Bride, the lushly filmed 1998 Elizabeth and the 2006 film adaptation of Pride & Prejudice.
The hall’s creaks, groans and half-heard sounds lend much to the atmospheric broodiness of the film. Fukunaga wisely keeps the lighting filtered, and through the misty windows one can almost feel the drear of the moors pressing inwards. Jane’s wanderings through the stunted plant-life and otherworldly landscape of the moors was filmed on location in Northern England, as it should be.
For those who loved the book, this film adaptation of Jane Eyre does not capture every nuance, but no film could. But the extraction of what they do capture makes for an intriguing story and a more than adequate film. You can catch a screening of this sweeping narrative at the 5 Points Theatre starting May 20th.
JANE EYRE movie review
by Erin Thursby