I’m just going to pop this out in the open right now. Ever since I first read it at the tender age of about thirteen, Jane Eyre has been my favourite books. But this post is going to be mostly about the movie, which I saw today.
It’s always dangerous, isn’t it? Going to see the movie of a book that you can recite large passages out of, or that you relate strongly to one (or some) of the characters. To be honest, if I wasn’t so impressed with the cast of this particular version of the story, then there is no way I would have gone to see it. No way. But… Judi Dench! Michael Fassbender! I haven’t seen much of Mia Wasikowska’s oeuvre – sadly, she is the weakest link for me, I didn’t really like her in Alice in Wonderland, or in Defiance, but I’m trying to put that aside and see how I go. But having said that, visually she’s a good choice for Jane, I think. Not horrible looking, just pale and weird-looking (in a nice way). Jamie Bell as St. John Rivers I’m having a slightly difficult time imagining too, but again, I’ll see how I go.
I’m really interested in how they handle some of the more brutal elements in the story – the scene in the church, the crossing the moors in the darkness, St. John’s proposal, the fire. As usual, all the nasty stuff. The treatment of Adele will be quite interesting too (Jane bonds with her so strongly in the book that the chemistry between the two actresses will be very important).
There’s a strong class struggle in Jane Eyre as well – Jane constantly wonders at Rochester, because she thinks she can bring nothing to their union (well, not money or title, anyway). So that will be interesting. I’m going with my Lad, against his will, I might add (though I’ve been to see Transformers 3 with him, so he kind of owes me), so I’ll be interested to see if he enjoys it or not. Be warned, that if you’re thinking of seeing Jane Eyre there are some spoilers after this jump. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Well. I’m not going to say it was a complete waste of time, because it wasn’t. It was pretty good actually. All the actors did well, but a special mention must go to Romy Settbon Moore, who played Adele. She did a stirling job. Mia Wasikowska was competent, but… ach, you know, the character that you have in your head is never “as good” as someone elses interpretation of it. Jane struggles with her temper from the time she’s a child, and the one real opportunity that she takes to express it is when she rages at Rochester under the oak tree, when she accuses him of messing Blanche Ingram around, telling him that he’s basically been a self-serving jerk. I can’t tell you the exact line, because I’ve just spent half an hour looking for my copy of Jane Eyre, so you’ll have to trust me on it. So anyway, I think that they could have made more of that.
Charlotte Brontë tells Jane’s story in a chronological order, beginning from just before the time she is expelled from Gateshead. I can understand that they wanted to inject a little drama into the beginning, but I thought that it was a bit difficult to follow. The Lad said that he found it okay to follow, and that he was glad that they put the drama of the running away from Thornfield. I thought that the time lapses were a bit weird too – she spends about three days on the moors, from memory, and I don’t think that they did the desperation of that time much justice.
One of my last complaints is to do with the end storyline: for one thing, why does St. John just let Jane run off into the hills, talking to thin air? Why is Mrs Fairfax hanging out in the ruins of Thornfield? What was going on there? What happens to Adele? What the hell happened to Rochester’s hands? One of them is meant to be chopped off and the other a claw! Instead, he’s grown a massive beard. It seemed massively rushed at the end, and not nearly as brutal as it should have done. And don’t whine on to me about how ‘sensibilities’ have changed – ours is the culture of Saw, don’t forget. Don’t tell me that we can’t put up with a one-handed blind dude and an old woman talking about how a woman threw herself off the highest tower to have her brains dashed upon the stone beneath. The whole point of it is to have Rochester, for all of his wealth, reliant on Jane at the end.
Look, I know that this all seems very critical, and you do have to make decisions to chop bits out of novels if you’re adapting them to movies. Scenically, it’s a very beautiful movie, and there are some really gorgeous shots. I did love how all the lighting seemed to be either natural or candlelight, that was very effective and evocative of the period. Michael Fassbender was very good, he got a thumbs up from me and the Lad for his grumpy Rochester. Jaime Bell was good also, as was Judi Dench (no surprises there – she made a great Mrs Fairfax). Aside from being a bit mad about the ending, I enjoyed this movie. This is the only version of Jane Eyre that I have actually enjoyed, at least, the movie version (there is a three-part TV series that was made not so long ago too, which I actually think was a bit better, at least in terms of stories – they had longer to tell it, that was the difference). If you look at it in the context of movie adaptions, I think it’s very good. If you look at it in terms of book-substitutes, I really wouldn’t go there. Get the Cliff Notes instead.
EDIT: By the way, yes I have read Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys, though after Jane Eyre was well and truly cemented as a favourite. It’s a good book, but running closer to the line of fan fiction than I usually like. I’d be interested to hear from anyone who had read them both at about the same time, because I feel I’m more prejudiced towards Jane Eyre as a better book.