My followers know I'm a fan of the Byronic Hero and even did a series on these moody, broody old-fashioned masculine hunks. So when the latest version of Jane Eyre hit the big screen I was there! And it didn't disappoint (Monsieur Aussie swears he wasn't asleep, he was just breathing heavily.)
A virginal heroine who's in thrall to a powerful and vaguely threatening older man has always been the stuff of melodrama. Today's teenagers lap up Twilight, (the latest incarnation); teens from earlier generations lapped up delicious novels such as Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights. Charlotte Bronte's seminal gothic novel on which the movie Jane Eyre is based is ancient by Twilight standards; it was first published in 1847.
History of Jane Eyre movies
From the beginning of cinema, filmmakers have been attracted to this book. The first known version was made in 1910, one of two that year. At least four more versions were made during the silent film era. The most celebrated version until now was the 1943 production starring Joan Fontaine and Orson Welles, but I preferred the 1996 Franco Zeffirelli version with Charlotte Gainsbourg as Jane and William Hurt as Rochester.
Skip along if you're not into trivia as there's more! There's been an Indian version (Sangdil, 1952), at least eight television versions and the Australian film Wide Sargasso Sea (1992) filled in Rochester's back story. Hey, don't forget Jacques Tourneur's I Walked with a Zombie, a horror film made the same year as the Fontaine-Wells version which deals with Bronte's basic story in very interesting ways.
The latest version of Jane Eyre
So what about the latest version? Well, it stars the luminous Australian-born actress Mia Wasikowska as Jane and I think she's marvellous. You might remember her from Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland. I think Jane Eyre was the role she was born to. She radiates solemn intelligence and wide-eyed innocence along with pride and idealism. Edward Rochester, the mysterious owner of Thornfield Hall is Michael Fassbender, well cast also. His first appearance on his black steed is splendid, and creates exactly the right mood of excitement and danger. The love affair is in first-class hands.
I assume if you're reading this far, you know the story. In the book Rochester is far less attractive and Jane is truly Plain Jane; not in this film. The story is told non-sequentially, beginning where Jane flees Thornfield into a wild, storm-tossed landscape, beautiful but dangerous moors. Flashbacks are used to take us back to Jane's childhood, orphaned and miserable. I'm glad the filmmaker didn't spend too long at the hideous charity school Lowood as the book descriptions have haunted me since I first read the novel as a young teenager. How could adults be so cruel to children? We do see poor, doomed Helen Burns...
When Jane is sent to Thornfield as governess to Adele (delightfully played by Romy Settbon Moore), the ward of the usually-absent Rochester, she finds a friend in housekeeper Mrs Fairfax (Judi Dench wonderful as usual.)
The British class system of the 19th Century is captured in detail and the landscape is given a poet's vision - beautiful and lowering.
To me, this is the best version yet! I hope you go see it. I can't wait to re-read the novel yet again.