Jane Eyre is one of my favorite books and so I was eagerly anticipating the most recent film adaptation, especially as the trailer looked promising. I have seen a lot of film adaptations of Jane Eyre, as I once made it a sort of personal project to see a bunch of them.
The versions I’ve seen:
1943 feature film with Joan Fontaine and Orson Welles
1983 miniseries with Zelah Clarke and Timothy Dalton
1996 feature-length with Charlotte Gainsbourg and William Hurt
1997 feature-length with Samantha Morton and Ciaran Hinds
2006 miniseries with Ruth Wilson and Toby Stephens
Sad to say, I disliked all of the above except the 2006 mini-series. Ruth Wilson was the only Jane I liked from the above actresses, the only one who seemed to capture Jane’s particular brand of quiet, direct fortitude. The 2006 version certainly made departures from the text, but to me, the departures seemed like reasonable extrapolations and teasing out of themes and implications present in the book. I kind of like filmmakers making the source material their own, as long as the story is still recognizable in its new form. Faithful adaptations (and the 1983 miniseries was very faithful) can sometimes be dull and plodding.
But back to the 2011 film: I am happy to say that in this new version, Mia Wasikowska makes a wonderful Jane and Michael Fassbender is well-cast as Mr. Rochester as well. Collapsing of scenes from the book were gracefully done. The cinematography is beautiful, and the camera stays close to the composed yet expressive heroine at its center.
The dialogue that is spoken is definitely familiar if you’ve read the book; actually, I actually welcomed some of the deviations, considering how many film versions I’ve seen of the story. At times, I thought the actors had some difficulty delivering the lines naturally – sometimes they really seemed like ‘lines of dialogue’ as opposed to a real conversation. But a rewatch might not yield the same judgment. The ending was not where I expected it to be, but fit well with the atmosphere of the film overall.
Of course with a feature-length film, I was left wanting more, especially more Jane and Mr. Rochester scenes. The 2006 miniseries I think remains my favorite because the central relationship has time to be developed – you can clearly see how the two are such kindred spirits. But, the 2011 version is definitely the best feature-length version of Jane Eyre that I’ve seen. I will probably add it to my DVD collection once it is released.