JANE EYRE Review - A Well-Made Movie, But A Flawed Adaptation

The film is certainly worth seeing, particularly for Wasikoska’s Jane, and for the many little details it gets just right. It’s surprising then that it falters when it comes to the dark gothic romance and melodrama for which the story is best remembered.

Charlotte Bronte€™s novel Jane Eyre is often cited as an important early work of feminism; its eponymous heroine does not have a great deal of control over her destiny and her circumstances, but she does have control over her own mind, her morals, her resolve. Being rebellious didn€™t get you far in the 19th century but she does have a rebellious streak, hidden away; though she is subjugated she keeps her integrity and principles intact. She perceives the strict limitations on her existence, and asserts herself within them. Mia Wasikowska, the Australian actress last seen in Tim Burton€™s Alice in Wonderland, looks almost exactly how I€™ve always imagined the role; in the most famous movie adaptation she was played by Joan Fontaine, a wonderful actress who was nevertheless too old and too glamorous for the part. That version diminished her strength of mind and free-thinking nature, suggesting that the book €“ written in 1847 €“ was still in some ways ahead of its time almost a century later. Cary Fukunaga€™s new version €“ adapted by Tamara Drewe writer Moira Buffini, restores much of that intelligence and integrity. Wasikowska is pretty but not overly glamorous in the part; her clothes are plain, her hair hooked under her ears, her head generally bowed forward. She has to carry the movie and she succeeds; while obviously her character cannot be explored as fully as in the novel, which is written from the first person, she suggests the same kind of depth; talking of her drawings she says €˜I imagine things I am powerless to execute,€™ and like much of her dialogue she is talking about more than she seems to be. The movie, structurally different from the novel, opens with Jane having run away from her job and €“ potential €“ lover; her story is then primarily told in flashback. We see her childhood; she was the adopted child of a bitter aunt (Sally Hawkins) who would lock her away if she misbehaved (or, indeed, if she didn€™t). She is taken to a draconian boarding school where she grows up and eventually leaves to seek employment; she finds it in Thornfield, working as a governess for the ward (she may or may not be his daughter) of Edward Rochester (Michael Fassbender). Rochester is broody and mysterious but also fairly young and handsome; he leaves for long stretches where Jane is left alone in the place with Adele, her pupil, and housekeeper Mrs Fairfax (Judi Dench), along with the other servants. Jane perceives quickly, and correctly, that this house has secrets. As filmed by cinematographer Adriano Goldman the movie has a washed-out, subdued look; although the Gothic elements of the novel are to some extent underplayed, the film looks like a ghost story. The early scenes are visually icy and unromantic; when we enter Thornfield, this is replaced by darkness, earthy browns and the flickering brightness of open fires, which suit Thornfield, a place of passion and decay. The atmosphere throughout is very good, and well-sustained. Where I think the film missteps, surprisingly, is in its portrayal of the central romance, between Rochester and Jane. Rochester is played by the excellent Michael Fassbender, and it€™s a good performance but the role feels almost too modern; compared to Orson Welles€™s performance in the 1943 movie he€™s more internalised, kinder, less prone to angry outbursts. He is a less ambiguous character here, and a more sympathetic one; consequently he has less resonance. He comes across as curiously asexual; incredibly, there is more erotic charge between Eyre and St John Rivers (Jamie Bell) despite the fact it works against the story. It isn€™t really my job, though, to say why the movie does not achieve the greatness of the novel; this is practically a given. That Fassbender€™s Rochester is nothing like the Rochester I have always imagined isn€™t a fair criticism either. But on its own terms the movie needed to have a stronger central relationship and Rochester needed to be more than just a poor sap. After two scenes with Jane, we know how he feels about her. At no point does it ever feel like he could be dangerous, and the difference in social positions never feels as important as it ought to. The film is certainly worth seeing, particularly for Wasikoska€™s Jane, and for the many little details it gets just right. It€™s surprising then that it falters when it comes to the dark gothic romance and melodrama for which the story is best remembered. Jane Eyre is in UK cinemas from September 9th.
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I've been a film geek since childhood, and am yet to find a cure. Not an auteurist, but my favourite directors include Robert Altman, Ernst Lubitsch, Welles, Hitch and Kurosawa. I also love Powell & Pressburger movies, anything with Fred Astaire, Cary Grant or Katherine Hepburn, the space-ballet of 2001, Ealing comedies, subversive genre cinema and that bit in The Producers with the fountain.