So after weeks of underwhelming Doctor Who episodes, I decided to go to the cinema instead and risk watching one of my favourite novels ever put into (yet another) film adaptation. Having studied it a million times and finally taught it myself to students, it is the one novel that’s nearly always on a curriculum somewhere that I’ve never tired of; a gothic romance and timeless classic that couldn't possibly be messed up? Well, maybe by the odd unimaginative teacher.
A wonderful screenplay by Moira Buffini, this adaptation wasn’t a disappointment other than a slightly strange shot of Jane fantasising or having a weird episodic apparition of Rochester in place of St.John. This was dangerously close to the final scenes which would have left me possibly having to be tranquilised in my anger if they had got that far and changed the ending (phew…but why was it there, it trivialised her solitude for me)
The daunting task of movie-upping a much loved classic was successful and happily for me the darker and subtle supernatural elements of the novel were at the forefront; the haunted red room, the strange drawings of Jane’s imaginations all adding to the ever present cloud of doom that sits alongside the growing love affair between the alarmingly young Jane and the rather cruel and worldly Rochester.
Cast wise, I couldn’t find fault really, Mia Wasikowska was beautifully fitting in the role of a ‘rare, unearthly thing’, a young woman with directness and opinions that were far too modern for the early Victorians, physically understated but striking in gaze and close to the age of Jane in the book which some adaptations have skirted around or ignored.
Michael Fassbender was a pretty good Rochester for the most although some might say a little too charming and perhaps too good looking. His dark secret, his fatal flaw and anguish, i.e. the mad (and much maligned wife but that’s a whole other story) Bertha Rochester nee Mason in the attic was overshadowing his character throughout.
Bertha’s presence in the film was too quiet really and I would have liked to have seen more of the crazed and exotic woman that entrapped Rochester with her bursting sexuality that haunts Jane’s nightmares.
A filmic moment wasted in my view that we did not hear more of the maniacal laugh in those fittingly dark and coldly overbearing corridors and particularly the part where she tears Jane’s wedding veil in dream like horror symbolising the loss of her virginity moving ever nearer.
The film was shot partially in London and mostly in the north of England, which in my mind, it could only be. Thornfield in particular was exactly how I have always imagined it; a simultaneously imposing, frightening yet beautifully grand hall of secrets and passion, the perfect setting for any story. There were rumblings of shock at the accents in the film but I found it quite refreshing that the characters had, 'god help us' (mature lady in the audience), their regional accents and for those aghast, it was hardly on the scale of ‘Shameless’ and a pretty accurate reflection of Bronte land.
Structurally it was a surprise being told mostly in flashback from Jane’s arrival at the home of the Rivers in an almost hyperthermia induced delirium. As a pinnacle point in the novel of change in Jane’s outlook and circumstance of becoming an independent woman of the time, I think it worked.
The harshness of Jane’s childhood and the death of her best friend ‘Helen’ was a little rushed perhaps but the cruelty of Jane’s Aunt and cousins and her treatment as a sinner and outcast at Lowood School were well directed.
I found the script faithful to the original novel with little to find fault, the melodrama of this novel which could be criticised for being coincidental and farfetched in places needs to be kept loyally in the era; a modern view that inevitably questions how Rochester gets away with locking a mad wife away undetected for so long can be explained to insignificance if you think of the time; many rich people would have avoided the shame and cruelty of the madhouse and done the same.
If you consider the novel alone was originally written under Charlotte Bronte’s male pen name, Currer Bell, due to the difficulty of even getting published as a woman, this tale of a woman’s growing independence and refusal to settle for anything less in a society, although subtle by today’s standards of feminist, was quite controversial and ahead of its time.
As a woman who doesn’t play by the rules, Jane risked many times being cast further out and Fukunaga’s direction in this film keeps within the history and contextual boundaries of this.
This current adaptation is loyal and befitting the Bronte tale of early feminist unrest and passionate yearnings whilst keeping in the harsh critique of convention and religious austerity alongside the talk of spirit and nature that at the time was equated with all that is evil.
So yes the infamous line and statement of Jane’s independence ‘Reader, I married him’ cannot be easily translated in film but it was clear that she only returned to Rochester on her terms which was as a woman of substance, keeping her honour intact once he was free of his ‘dark secret’ to be her husband. This was, significantly, after his twin soul call 'in the air' as she refused a marriage proposal from St. John that most in her position would be grateful.
I highly recommend it if you love the novel…jump on the trailer below to see if you want to make a last minute dash to the cinema to catch it.
Mia Wasikowska - Jane Eyre
Amelia Clarkson- young Jane Eyre
Michael Fassbender - Edward Fairfax Rochester
Jamie Bell - St.John Rivers
Judi Dench - Mrs Fairfax
Sally Hawkins- Mrs Reed
Simon McBurney- Mr Brocklehurst
Imogen Poots-Blanche Ingram
Romy Settbon Moore-Adele Varens