Tuesday, 23 August 2011

A pared-back version of Jane Eyre

Another decade, another version of Jane Eyre, that oft-filmed eternal favourite. Starring Australian Mia Wasikowska (Alice in Wonderland) as Jane, and German(!) Michael Fassbender as Rochester, this latest movie is a windswept, pared-back interpretation that still manages to capture most of the essential essence of the novel.

In my mind, it was always going to be difficult to surpass the 2006 BBC television series (starring Toby Stephens and Ruth Wilson) and I probably still prefer that version, largely owing to the more comprehensive treatment. There's a lot of essential dialogue missing in the new movie, and while I thought Wasikowska gave an impressive performance, I couldn't help wishing sometimes that she'd speak rather than use her amazingly expressive face.

Yet the script covers all the essential plot points, and utilises a creative adaptation to the structure of the story. By starting with Jane's flight from Thornfield Hall, the film opens with a mystery (if you don't know the story) and then cuts between this usually rather dull 'Rivers' section and Jane's equally dull childhood. I thought it worked really well. (The 2006 version adheres to a more conventional structure from the start, but interleaves the Rivers section with flashbacks to the passionate scenes between Jane and Rochester in the aftermath of the non-wedding. This works too.) I did notice that this film version decided to omit the ridiculous coincidence that Jane is related to the Rivers -- good job!

Of the other characters, I thought Jamie Bell as St John Rivers was OK, although not particularly memorable -- and Judi Dench was predictably brilliant as Mrs Fairfax, despite limited screen time. All the other characters were very pared back, but served their purpose. However, I did come away feeling that the Mason angle was underplayed and a tad too peripheral. Perhaps much of the story, abbreviated as it was, suffered from this. I don't think you get the same sense of Jane's total powerlessness and vulnerability as an orphaned and poor woman in this version, either.

Ultimately, my greatest lasting impression of the film is of the windswept moor and of course the Jane/Rochester love story. I've heard it said that this portrayal of Rochester is more severe than most, but it didn't overtly strike me that way. However, I did feel the impact of the contracted storyline in the development of their relationship.

Overall, if you're anywhere close to being a fan of Jane Eyre . . . or the Bronte sisters . . . or Gothic Romance in general, this film is definitely worth seeing. The cinematography is fabulous (I've read that many of the interior shots are filmed using candle-lighting) and the performances also. Even though it's possibly missing a few of the usual intricacies and depth of theme, at heart it's still a tremendous story.

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