by Charlotte Bronte – Moira Buffini, screenplay
directed by Cary Fukunaga
Here we have still yet another film adaptation of the classic Victorian morality play, Jane Eyre. It is an immortal story for all ages due to the universality of its aspirational, emotional core and its expression of responsibility to ones own moral values.
It would be presumptuous of me to comment on the original since the task has been handled by so many, far greater minds than my own. Since the story’s publication in 1847, it has been subject to countless settings and interpretations, both in straight readings of the original text and in adaptation to different times and points of view. The original novel has such good bones that it allows for broad social commentary and for a plea and justification for women’s rights. The proof of its success on this latter point is evidenced by the fact that the original was serialized under a masculine nom de plume, an affect no longer required pretty much anywhere in the world today.
In case you have forgotten the details, the story goes:
An orphaned girl from a good family is mistreated by her objectionable relatives, sent to an austere boarding school, then hired out as a governess. She silently falls in love with her libertine employer but refuses to give her self over to her passions despite his entreaties. When at last she does, it is discovered that he is already married to a mad woman whose existence tortures his soul. She flees and is taken in by a pious, religious man who gives her a job as the village teacher. When he proposes to her, for all the wrong reasons, she rejects him. When, in a turn of fate, she comes into a good deal of money, she returns to her first employer and true love and finds that he has lost everything, including his wife and his sight, leaving him free to accept her on her terms.
This new movie version is beautiful and evenly balanced in all its parts. The production design, cinematography and editing are all above reproach. It is exceptionally well cast from the newcomers, Mia Wasikowska as Jane, and Jamie Bell as St. John, to a commanding performance by Michael Fassbender as Rochester and Dame Judy Dench as the all seeing and permitting Mrs. Fairfax.
Where the production falls short is that the adaptation lacked verve. The director, also a newcomer, Cary Fukunaga, brought no bold stroke to the interpretation that would serve to lift a straight reading of a classic to new heights for a new audience. Just a couple of quick comparisons to illustrate the point might be, Alfred Hitchcock’s REBECCA or the 1993 Australian film WIDE SARGASSO SEA, based on Jean Rhys’s novel of the same name.
It is understandable that all the nuts and bolts might be in the right place, Fukunaga has had a respectable career as a cinematographer and no doubt he had good intentions. I especially appreciated the attempts to highlight the allusions to Jane as being of the faerie realm, not of this world, something aethereal, but they came too late and were too scattered through the narrative to stick. In the end, we were left with a movie experience that didn’t stick. A couple of days after the screening, I had pretty much forgotten that I had seen it, not a good sign.
But, all in all, it was a beautiful film with good performances of a classic story that holds up well without losing much of its inherent dramatic allure.
Keith D. Kurman
1 March 2011