For the record, I can’t stand Gothic Cinderella tales like Jane Eyre. But I loved this latest movie version of Charlotte Bronte’s 1847 novel. I can only imagine that if you love the novel, you’ll go gaga for this elegant, respectful production. (Caveat: If you do not know the novel at all, maybe you should read this review after you see the film because there are a few spoilers here.)
Jane Eyre is director Cary Fukunaga’s (Sin Nombre) second feature–it’s nothing less than astonishing that an inexperienced filmmaker should have such masterful command of all the elements that go into a great movie. He is definitely a director to watch. His film is breathtakingly gorgeous –its depiction of the gloomy. English moors, and its jaw-dropping sets and costumes are haunting. All the performances were believable and memorable, especially Aussie actress, 22-year-old Mia Wasikowska, who played plain Jane with a dazzling inner radiance. The script, possibly more true to the novel than previous film versions, takes liberty with chronology, going back and forward in time from Jane’s heartbreaking time at Thornfield House. Special mention must be made of Amelia Clarkson, who plays the young Jane–she’s so compatible to Ms. Wasikowska that the transition from child to young adult is seamless.
We find Jane on her famous flee across the moors where she finds refuge in the cottage of a young parson (Jamie Bell) and his two sisters, who are paragons of kindness. Slowly the key points of Jane’s terrible childhood emerge–how she was orphaned, and then mistreated by her aunt, Mrs. Reed (Sally Hawkins in a strong non-bubbly role). She is sent off to a Dickensian school nightmare, where she’s plucky enough not to die like her little friend does. She grows up and escapes to Thornfield House where she takes the only kind of position that most unmarried, somewhat educated women could get in those days — she becomes the governess to the charming French-speaking ward of the absentee owner. Helping Jane learn the ropes of her new environment in the huge, empty, but tastefully maintained mansion is wise Mrs. Fairfax, played by the luminescent Dame Judi Dench.
One day the house is all a-flutter because the owner has arrived to pay one of his rare visits. This is Rochester (Michael Fassbinder), an intense, imperious, aloof, brooding lord of the manor who knows how to throw out an intriguing line or two during an otherwise insulting conversation. Don’t ask me why, Jane finds herself drawn to him. Of course, in a houseful of women and coming from a school for girls, Jane is, shall we say, ready to bloom for the nearest straight guy, even if he is nasty.
One chaste, intellectual jousting after another — the two are definitely intellectual matches–and their romance ensues with innuendo, absence, class differences, and mounting frustration. Those moody moors, you know.
Rochester brings his latest girlfriend to the house, in fact, there’s gossip, he’s going to marry the woman and Jane is devastated. Finally — by this time, let me tell you, even if you do love the novel, you are really wanting some action to happen between these two — Rochester declares his love for Jane and she, totally besnookered like Prince Diana was with Charles, agrees to marry him.
But alas, the reason Rochester is such a moody guy is revealed in his terrible secret living in the attic. I would have liked many more scenes with his wild, crazy Jamaican wife, but the film was, after all, Jane Eyre and not the Wide Sargasso Sea.
The story goes on to its ultimate tragic but romantic ending that every woman on the planet except me seems to find fascinating. But even for me, I stuck with this tale, because it was told with such incredible beauty, and Mia Wasikowska, even if she’s playing a tortured Cinderella, is the most absorbing actress on the scene today.