Jane Eyre: The Movie

I have been super excited about the new Jane Eyre film for months. It came out here in New York on limited release this weekend, and I joined the queue with a couple of friends to see it at the lovely Sunshine cinema downtown on Saturday night. For some strange reason it’s only on in two cinemas in Manhattan, and as such, they asked us all to fill in questionnaires about how we found the film, as they’re treating this as a trial run to see whether they can let it go to general release. I very much hope it does go to general release, because let me tell you – it’s superb.

It opens with Jane (Mia Wasikowska) leaving Thornfield after the aborted wedding ceremony, and escaping onto the moors. She then finds her way to the Rivers’ cottage, and it is from the vantage point of being questioned by St John (a surprisingly well suited Jamie Bell), Diana and Mary that her story is told, from early days at the Reed’s, to Lowood and then at Thornfield, through flashbacks. Her experiences at St John’s are interspersed between the flashbacks. I thought this was a very clever way of telling the story, and really highlights the anguish Jane was in when she was in the Rivers’ home, continually haunted by memories of her past and of Rochester (Michael Fassbender). No other adaptation I have seen has managed to convey just how difficult that year in Jane’s life was, when she had no idea what had happened to Rochester or where her life was going to lead her, and the flipping of the timeline of the story works wonders at showing Jane’s state of mind during the St John episode, and shows how important that part of the novel is, which is often dismissed as weak or boring.

Mia Wasikowska is an excellent Jane not just because she was actually a teenager when this was filmed, isn’t Hollywood pretty, and is tiny compared to Michael Fassbender’s towering Rochester, but because she is wonderful at portraying the personality I always imagined Jane to have. She shows her intelligence, her steadfastness, her courage and her independence, but she also shows her sense of fun and her joy in life. She is not presented as a prig or a victim, but as a thoroughly wonderful, witty, warm girl with a fire in her heart and a fierce sense of what is right and wrong that she will not waver from. She is truly Charlotte Bronte’s vision of Jane as I have always read her.

Michael Fassbender is also terrific in his role, and is the only Rochester I have seen who manages to get across just how cruel Rochester can be; he tortures Jane needlessly with Blanche Ingram, is dimissive and rude towards Mrs Fairfax, and makes it obvious he can hardly bear the presence of Adele. However, underneath this often unkind and volatile behaviour, there is a sparkle, a kindness, a passion, that makes him irresistible. It is easy to see how Jane could fall in love with this damaged creature, and despite all of their differences, it makes sense that they are drawn to each other as irrevocably as they are; the chemistry between them is remarkable. Especially when compared to Jamie Bell’s perfect, quiveringly repressed St John, Rochester’s virility and sensitivity are irresistible, and it’s clear to see that Jane could never settle for anything less than this magnificently tortured soul she has forced herself to part from.

Alongside the terrific characterisation and acting, the cinematography is breathtaking. The Yorkshire moors are one of the most beautiful natural sights I have ever seen, and their moody unpredictability is shown to full effect in Jane Eyre, with sweeping views across its misty, barren, undulating landscape that echoes the gothic, emotionally intense landscape of the characters’ hearts. It made me incredibly homesick to see Jane tramping through muddy, foggy lanes, her breath escaping in clouds; I could almost smell the damp air that is peculiar to the British climate, always heavy with the pungent odours of earth and impending rain. The costumes were also wonderful; simple, modest, and unobtrusive. There was actually one of Mia Wasikowska’s costumes on display in the cinema lobby, and I could see that it had been made of plain linen, naturally dyed, and sewn beautifully by hand; brilliantly accurate for the simplicity and modesty of Jane’s taste.

Obviously there are aspects of the novel that are left out; some characters don’t appear, some don’t appear enough, some plot points are not introduced and some relationships are not fully developed, but the essential story, atmosphere and characters are presented so brilliantly and convincingly that it doesn’t really matter; you don’t need these periphery details to understand or become involved in the central events. One thing I particularly appreciated was that Bertha is hardly shown at all, and the temptation to ‘Wide Sargasso Sea-ise’ her role in the novel is well and truly avoided. She is always there, in the background, of course, but that is where she belongs; she is not a central part of the story, as I have always read it, and I dislike it when adaptations seek to postmodernise the novel and make it about female repression and postcolonialism, giving Bertha a far more prominent role than Bronte does.

I normally have a lot of bones to pick with adaptations of my favourite novels, but for once, I was left wholly satisfied. Jane Eyre has been done a magnificent justice in this film, and I strongly urge you all to go and watch it when it comes out where you are! You really won’t be disappointed.

51 comments

  1. Thanks for the recommendation. I have seen so many adaptations that I am usually not that eager to see a new one, especially when I loved the book. Your review has changed my attitude!

  2. You are so lucky to see it so early! It won’t release here in San Antonio until April 1 — very annoying. I’m really looking forward to it and I’m listening to the audio in anticipation. I’m glad you liked it and I’m even more excited it now.

  3. I am so grateful for your review, Rachel, and a little envious at your experience. I won’t hold it against you, however, for you are such a wonderful person. I have been anxiously awaiting this adaptation and now intrigued at how Jane’s story is being told with flashbacks. Like you, I prefer the book to the movie, but, sometimes, when done right, the movie can be just as fulfilling and often leads people to then read the book.

    What a treat to see one of the costumes and observe the accuracy in the construction of the dress.

    Jane Eyre releases in the Chicago area later this week. I just hope it doesn’t show in a few “select” theaters and then go to video, which seems to happen with the best movies.

    1. Oh Penny, you’re so sweet! I quite agree – a good adaptation has a place and though it can never replace the book, if it encourages others to seek the book for the first time then it can only be a good thing!

      Yes that really was the icing on the cake – I was so happy when I saw it!

      I am sure it will go on general release – the cinema was packed out with queues around the block so the demand is definitely there. I hope you get to see it!

      1. I finally saw Jane Eyre, this morning, actually, with a good friend. It has been hard to find around here. It was soooooooo worth the wait. I loved it, Rachel, and couldn’t wait to tell you.

      2. So glad you loved this Penny! Fantastic! I loved your comments on it. Let’s hope it goes to general release so that more people can see it!

  4. Oh, oh, oh! I want to see this NOW!!! Thank you for such a full and interesting review. But I just can’t imagine Jamie Bell as St John! That was an imaginative bit of casting!

    Would you believe my Jane hasn’t read Jane Eyre yet? She wants to so much, but was so upset about poor wee child Jane that she hasn’t got any further yet. and she won’t watch an adaptation before she’s read the book (I have decreed!๐Ÿ™‚ )

    Did you see the TV adaptation with Ruth Wilson? The arty-f*rty first episode nearly put John and me off, but we persevered and were glad we did.

    1. Oh Penny, I just looked it up and it doesn’t come out until September in the UK. You poor things will have to wait so long! Now wonder my sister said she hasn’t even seen it advertised yet.

      Well you know Jamie Bell on paper sounds awful as St John but he really does an excellent job and I thought he was entirely convincing. He’s not a big character but when he’s on screen he has a lot of gravitas.

      I can’t believe that at all! She has to push past that bit and get into the romance! Too right that she shouldn’t watch an adaptation first – her experience will be ruined!

      Yes I really enjoyed the Ruth Wilson one but this tops it! It really does!

      1. I was telling Jane about your review of the film (and nagging her to bite the bullet and get past Jane’s miserable childhood…) when she reminded me that Jamie Bell was excellent as Smike in Nicholas Nickleby…

  5. I am dying to see this. Wasikowska is physically perfect for the role (did you know she wore no makeup for the part?), and what you say about her portrayal of Jane’s youthful esprit makes it seem perfect – Jane is so often portrayed as such a bland, personality-free prig, despite the gentle wit that Bronte endowed her with. Can’t wait til it gets to Baton Rouge…it shouldn’t be long, right?

    1. I could tell she wasn’t wearing any makeup! She looked so fresh faced. Just as I imagined Jane to be! I know – I felt like everyone involved in the film had really read and understood the novel and wasn’t relying on stereotypes for once which makes it so different and fresh feeling. No I don’t think it will be too long before you get it…let’s hope it’s not an excessively limited release!

  6. I wanted to see this all weekend, and actually, my husband does too! Somehow, it escaped us with weekend tasts, but we’ll get to it soon I hope. So glad to here that Jane is not the typical Hollywood pretty; I’m really tired of that. Which is part of why I loved The King’s Speech so much; it didn’t seem covered with Hollywood falseness.

    1. You must go and see it just as soon as you can! This is definitely a film that those tired of Hollywood glitz and special effects should see – it’s a very muted film that relies on good acting to make a statement which is how it should be!

  7. Can’t wait, can’t wait! Watched the trailer yesterday and it looks every bit as fabulous as I had hoped it would be! R says it’s coming to the Varsity in Toronto where many movies start off in limited release…the better movies anyway. And I’ve made a mental note to buy a package of mini-licorice allsorts for the event. I have been in a Jane Eyre drought since we said good-bye to our VCR and my videotape copy with it!

    Glad you had a super time and I’m even more excited now that I know you highly recommend it!

  8. The beautifully restrained poster showing Jane with an authentic hairstyle for the time would be enough to make me very keen to see the film – your review means I won’t be disappointed.
    It’s good to know that a fresh and faithful version can still be made. I hope I’ll get to see it in some form (probably DVD) as we have only a sometime-itinerant cinema visiting the village and rarely with a film I want to see. Thank goodness for technology!

    1. Yes the poster is lovely isn’t it? I got one from the cinema to put on my wall.

      With such a book as Jane Eyre, that has been ‘done’ on film so many times, it is hard to find something fresh and new within yet another adaptation, but this one really does bring a different perspective and I loved it. I hope you won’t have to wait for the DVD…that’s so far away!

  9. I’ve been mulling over a posting a Jane Eyre quote in the last few days through various conversations and this post has made me even more certain of writing it.
    Rachel – lucky you for seeing it earlier than if you were in UK – another wonderful reason for being in NY now.

  10. Can’t wait for this to come to the UK. Like Penny I can’t imagine Jamie Bell as St John, but I’m glad you’ve said he was good in the role.

  11. I have been very skeptical about this movie because I’ve pretty much convinced myself that no one will get Jane Eyre right on film. (I did think the version with Ciarin Hinds several years ago was tolerable, but I haven’t seen any since.) Anyway, your post has encouraged me a great deal. I really like the idea of telling it in flashback, thus giving the section with the Rivers’ some heft without leaving people bored and frustrated with the lack of Rochester.

    I’m also so glad to hear that Jane is given the spirit and independence that Bronte gave her. However, I’m afraid I’ll have to listen to people exclaim about how wonderful it is that the filmmakers brightened up “Bronte’s dull old Jane”, in which case I’ll have to punch someone–or perhaps I’ll just present them with a copy of the book in which I’ve already marked the sections where Jane shows her intelligence, wit, and spirit๐Ÿ˜›

    1. I think this is a truly special adaptation. It was the first one I’ve seen where I wasn’t irritated by the omissions – they have pared the story down to its essential elements and it really works. The flashback element is especially good and lightens the load of having to insert a whole new section without the main character of Rochester in it to provide the dramatic thrust.

      Oh yes – I’m sure that will happen. The phrase that annoys me the most is ‘making the novel accessible’ – the novel is already accessible! All you have to do is open the front cover!๐Ÿ˜‰

  12. I’ve been waiting for someone to review this. So glad to hear that it is well done! We recently watched the version with Ruth Wilson and Toby Stephens and I think it was one that gave more of Rochester’s background with Bertha than I cared to see. Thanks for the review!

    1. Glad I could oblige, Susan! I enjoyed the Ruth/Toby version but yes – a lot of Wide Sargasso Sea elements were included that irked me somewhat. This is much shorter but has everything you need included in it.

  13. Interesting… I’m wary of them messing with Bronte’s narrative structure and underplaying Bertha (she is the linchpin of the plot after all, even if I don’t want the film to turn into some massive exposition on feminist and colonial theory) but, on the whole, this sounds not-disastrous, which is an achievement! Exciting!

    1. Don’t worry too much about the narrative structure – I’m a purist but on film it really works to present the story from that point of view. As for Bertha, she’s always there as a presence through the mysterious laughter, screaming, etc, but she doesn’t feature much in person – which, actually, she doesn’t in the book, so that worked for me. It’s as faithful as a 2 hour film can be to a very long and detailed book, and it brings a fresh perspective that I really enjoyed, so get excited – though you’ll have a while to wait if you’re in the UK I’m afraid (which I suspect you are from your use of the English language!)๐Ÿ™‚

  14. Wow, this is quite the glowing review! Yay, I’m so excited to see this film, and I LOVE the way you describe the narrative structure. I’m always up for flashbacks and interesting film editing. I wasn’t sure about Mia Wasikowska as Jane, so I’m pleased she fits the role.

    1. It is fantastic Jenny – I am certain you will love it.๐Ÿ™‚ I wasn’t sure about the whole thing and was prepared to be high and mighty about it but I was so, so pleasantly surprised! Go and see it soon and then we can talk about it!

  15. Thank you for this review of the film, Rachel! This adaptation sounds like it does justice to so many elements of the novel: the age difference between Jane and Rochester, their different personalities, and her time away from Rochester. I’m reluctant to see adaptations of the novel; it is probably my favourite novel, and I hate seeing it ruined by a bad adaptation. This one sounds great, though, and I’ll try to see if it comes my way.

    1. You are more than welcome, Virginia!๐Ÿ™‚ It really does – it’s very true and has managed to convey the heart and soul of the novel, I think. You must go and see it – it comes to Canada very soon I think!

  16. You lucky dog! I can’t wait to see this film. I would actually watch anything with old great houses and misty moors. That it is actually good is just icing on the cake. I’m so easy to please in this area. Honestly, just set up a webcam and I’d still reach for my wallet.

    1. I know, I didn’t realise how limited (and lengthy) the release programme was – I feel very lucky indeed! You are funny! You need to take a trip to Whitby – you’d die of pleasure! Though, those moors are treacherous – you turn a corner, rolling white mist appears out of nowhere, and you can’t see in front of you. I nearly ran over a sheep when I went!

  17. Shakes fist at you for being in a country that has this now. We have to wait until September, September and it’s BBC production *pay license fees grumble*.

    In all seriousness it sounds fabulous, all the right bits emphasised (and I can totally see Jamie Bell as St John, he does have that kind of clammy, sallow look I think is right). I even agree about Bertha, Wide Sargasso is where she gets her story and Bronte never meant her to be a feminist symbol. That just means we should ahve more adaptations of Wide Sargasso too!

    1. I’m sorry! I actually can’t believe they’re waiting six months to release it in the UK…that is ridiculous. Perhaps they want to have a presence around awards season?

      I think it really is a fabulous adaptation that says what needs to be said and doesn’t sensationalise or sex it all up, which I also hate in adaptations. I quite agree – too many adaptations seem to be a merger of the two books and it drives me mad!!

  18. This sounds fantastic, what a lovely review you have written of it Rachel – thank you. I loved the book and can’t wait to see the film – even if it won’t be until September. It will just be coming into Autumn though and I think that is the perfect time to read/watch it ( still it does seem a long way away!)

    Hope your homesickness has settled down 0:)

    1. Thanks Tracey! It really is a terrific film and I’m only sorry that you have to wait so long for it to come out! I expected it to be released in the UK first so I’m surprised they’re waiting six months to bring it out there. You are right though – Autumn is the perfect time to read and watch Jane Eyre and I will probably watch it again when I come back to England in September!

      Thank you! It has!๐Ÿ™‚

  19. Wow! I’ve been wondering how they’d be able to manage it in two hours, or whatever – considering how long the latest tv version was. I look forward to it.

    Have you seen the one with Zelah Clarke? I thought she was a good Jane, and that’s my favorite version, even though it’s dated.

    1. Hi Lisa! Yes the two hour limit is certainly a constraint and as such they have left a fair bit out – but only the stuff that can be without sacrificing the main thrust of the story. I was surprised by how little I minded actually!

      No I haven’t – I shall have to seek it out! I haven’t seen that many Jane Eyre adaptations to be honest – I tend to find them so ridiculously overblown that I can’t stand more than ten minutes, though I did really like the most recent TV version with Toby Stephens.

  20. This film sounds really good and I hope that they put it on general release. I switched on the TV a few weeks ago and there was the 1944 black and white version with Orson Welles as Rochester which was ineresting to watch. The scene that was on was the one with Jane and her friend Helen – quite sad!

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