By Leonard Maltin | Leonard Maltin March 11, 2011 at 5:30AM
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.