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movie review: Jane Eyre

by Leonard Maltin
March 11, 2011 5:30 AM
3 Comments
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Can a film be true to a classic literary source and still seem fresh? The answer is yes, and the proof is the new adaptation of Jane Eyre.

Mia Wasikowska, who made such a strong impression in last year’s Alice in Wonderland and The Kids Are All Right, cements her reputation as one of the brightest young talents on the scene with an effective yet understated performance as Jane. She isn’t one for histrionics, yet we understand her subtle shifts of emotion at every turn; that’s screen acting at its finest.

Michael Fassbender’s reputation is also growing, film by film, from such indie productions as Andrea Arnold’s Fish Tank to Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds. He is ideally suited to play the mercurial, tortured, yet magnetic Mr. Rochester, who has a strange way of showing interest in (and—

—affection for) his young governess.

Jamie Bell and Judi Dench round out the principal cast, with Dench bringing just the right touch of dithery authority—and humor—to the role of housekeeper Mrs. Fairfax, who welcomes Jane to Thornfield Hall and glides over her employer’s many eccentricities.

Screenwriter Moira Buffini, who wrote last year’s Tamara Drewe, has dared to shuffle the order of events in Charlotte Brontë’s novel, enabling us to meet Jane first as a young woman and then flash back to her harrowing childhood. This works quite well without shortchanging the story or minimizing the significance of either period in the heroine’s troubled life.

Following his impressive feature debut, Sin Nombre, director Cary Fukunaga has brought his keen eye and humanistic sensibilities to this oft-told story. In his second collaboration with cinematographer Adriano Goldman, Fukunaga has used admirable restraint in evoking the dramatic setting and time period of the Brontë classic. The locations have been chosen with great care; the costumes and settings are beautiful but they never overwhelm the characters, or the audience.

I suspect that no screen adaptation could ever completely satisfy Brontë purists, but this beautifully wrought film may do the next best thing: it just might inspire people to seek out the novel.

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3 Comments

  • Margaret | April 18, 2011 1:33 AMReply

    I read the book many times as a girl, never watched any of the earlier adaptations, and now I love this movie! Beautiful, passionate, and true to the original while leaving out lengthy philosophizing and the study of German with the Rivers family. Some of the reviews I've seen are complaining that Fukunaga didn't do anything "subversive" or somehow tweak the story to make it something new. Who wants new? This film captures Jane's powerful integrity and intelligence through the speed and force of the direction and Mia Wasikowska's steady, watchful eyes. I was actually afraid that this Mr. Rochester might be too much like Orson Welles, or maybe Colin Firth (love him, but not here) but Michael Fassbender completely filled the bill.
    And they got Judi Dench! Perfect.

  • Craig | March 30, 2011 10:00 AMReply

    I grew up loving the Robert Stevenson version with Orson Welles, Joan Fontaine and the fantastic Bernard Herrmann score. And the stand out performance of young Elizabeth Taylor as Jane’s childhood friend makes the 1943 version one of my all time favorite movies.

    But, I enjoyed this new version immensely and highly recommend it. The film does a great job of updated the story for modern audiences without destroying the Victorian feel of the original work– they did leave out the overly dramatic (though, I loved it) “destruction of chestnut tree by lighting bolt” in the Welles version, showing nature’s displeasure of Rochester’s unholy proposal of marriage. Only Welles could pull of the line “God pardon me!” with lighting bolt exclamation point, or bang. Interestingly, and perhaps rightly for the tastes of today’s audiences director Fukunaga remains fateful to the book and only shows the exploded tree after the storm has passed.

  • Jason | March 13, 2011 8:57 AMReply

    I hope they keep the gothic tone of the book that so many film adaptions lack. Looking forward to seeing this.

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