Just when you think you’ve seen all the Jane Eyre adaptations you possibly could, director Cary Fukunaga makes a solid film that will have audiences hooked despite their obvious familiarity with the story.
Fukunaga mostly remains faithful to the novel, but chooses to start the movie from the middle of the narrative. In the opening scene we see Jane, played by rising star Mia Wasikowska, escaping from her room in Thornfield into the wilderness and encountering some kind strangers: St John Rivers (played by Jamie Bell) and his sisters Diana Rivers (Holliday Grainger) and Tamzin Merchant (Mary Rivers). In flashbacks, we come to know about Jane’s childhood as a free-spirited orphan living with her late Uncle Reed’s family. Then Mrs Reed sends her to the Lowood Institution.
Surprisingly Fukunaga’s little experiment with the narrative structure works very well. It hooks the viewer and gives the adaptation a modern touch without spoiling the story. Moreover, the excellent cinematography creates an almost haunting effect on the screen.
The main part of the story focuses on Jane’s first job as a governess at the estate of Thornfield and her infatuation with Edward Rochester, the mysterious master of the house.
Orson Welles’ unforgettable acting as Rochester in the 1944 movie is no doubt the most powerful rendition of the character, making it all the more difficult for any other actor to do justice to this role. However, Welles’ superb performance also meant that he overshadowed Joan Fontaine, who played Jane Eyre in the movie. Marlon Brando had the same impact in A Street Car Named Desire, when he stole attention away from Blanche DuBois (Vivian Leigh) as a very strong Stanley Kowalski. When people watch these movies they watch Welles and Brando instead of Fontaine and Leigh who were supposed to be the main characters in the text.
In Fukunaga’s Jane Eyre, Fassbender adds an element of sheer masculine attraction to the cold wit and gothic demeanour of Rochester. Fassbender does not try to imitate anyone, and succeeds in leaving his individual mark on the character. More importantly, he does not overshadow Jane, the heroine of our story, and gives ample space to Wasikowska who does justice to the much-imagined Jane Eyre.
Unlike previous incarnations of the character — including Fontaine and Charlotte Gainsbourg — who made for very attractive Janes, Mia gives us the Jane that is closest to the one portrayed so beautifully in the novel by Charlotte Bronte as ‘small and plain’. The chief attraction of the movie, undoutedly, remains Mia Wasikowska’s exceptional acting as Jane Eyre. Unadorned and unassuming, Mia’s unyielding posture and tight-lipped expressions portray Jane’s unwavering moral strength and her longing for independence. She has captured the chilling reality and resilient spirit of Jane in her splendid interpretation of this extraordinary character.
This movie had me take up the novel after years and read it again. If you are a Jane Eyre fan you don’t want to miss this movie.
Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, July 17th, 2011.