Film review – Jane Eyre (2011)

Jane Eyre (Mia Wasikowska)

Jane Eyre (Mia Wasikowska)

The challenge of adapting a novel, especially one that is so loved and very much considered a classic, is to ensure that it captures the essence of the source material while being a cinematic work that is successful on its own terms. Charlotte Brontë’s 1857 proto-feminist novel Jane Eyre is certainly one that carries an enormous amount of cultural baggage since it is so highly esteemed as an important literary work. Fortunately, this 2011 adaptation by Cary Fukunaga wonderfully brings the story to life in a way that those of us who have never read the novel can be completely seduced by.

A considerable part of what makes Fukunaga’s Jane Eyre work so well is the casting, especially with Mia Wasikowska in the titular role. Wasikowska is the right age to play Jane and embodies the degree in which Jane is physically a young woman but emotionally an older soul. She brings to the part both a sympathetic vulnerability and a determined stoicism that she needs to protect herself after an affectionless childhood and a disciplined adolescence. Jane is humble and withdrawn, yet as the film progresses Wasikowska’s performance hints at her frustrations and yearning for something more. Her battle of wits with the mysterious and powerful Edward Fairfax Rochester (Michael Fassbender) generates a subtle sexual tension as the two damaged souls size each other up with the potential for something more enticingly suggested.

Jane Eyre: Edward Fairfax Rochester (Michael Fassbender)

Edward Fairfax Rochester (Michael Fassbender)

Much of the film expressively conveys Jane’s emotional state and in that regard Fukunaga enhances the Gothic elements of the story where the setting takes on various characteristics to express Jane’s mental and emotional state. Passionate outbursts arrive with thunderous storms, love is delivered in sun-drenched spring mornings and windswept desolate moors are perfect for anguish and despair. And at the centre of it all is Thornfield manor with its dark secrets and mysteries.

Despite the abundance of film style that’s used to express Jane’s emotional state, the film never feels overtly melodramatic due to Fukunaga’s modern visual style. The camera is often positioned from behind Jane’s head, an increasingly common technique to situate the audience right behind the character to see the world as they see it, but in a slightly detached observational way to convey Jane’s guardedness. A real pleasure from the film is watching her and Rochester lower their defences to deliver lots of wonderfully tormented romantic dialogue.

This new adaptation truly announces Wasikowska’s arrival as an actor of significant talent. Fassbender also continues his incredibly good run and he is fast becoming one of his generation’s most versatile performers. Jane Eyre is only Fukunaga’s second feature film and it establishes him as a director worth following. The composition of light and colour in every shot that he achieves with cinematographer Adriano Goldman conveys a remarkable cinematic eye. Far from being a worthy and stodgy literary adaptation, Jane Eyre is a passionate and romantic love story that feels as fresh as it must have done when Brontë originally wrote it.

Thomas Caldwell, 2011

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6 Responses to Film review – Jane Eyre (2011)

  1. Jenny says:

    Hi Thomas…great review to a wonderful film that we saw last night at the Nova.

  2. aculturedlad says:

    Looking forward to it! The pictures look great! To be honest, I’m just being reminded of how much I am DYING to see Anna Karenina directed by Joe Wright when I see adaptations of classic novels though I still am excited for this.

  3. John Connor says:

    I had major problems with the narrative structure of the novel, specifically (trying to be non-spoilery) the two spectacular coincidences that Bronte needs to use to get her plot where she wants it to go. I’m fascinated to see how (or indeed, if) they’ve altered the structure so that those moments don’t have such a jarring effect.

    No mention from Thomas of any WTF?!? moments, so it must have been handled reasonably elegantly …

  4. Sue McGrath says:

    I was disappointed with this new version of Jane Eyre, not from the actors who were both excellent, but from the actual adaption of such a well-known and loved literary work. There was so much left out – both with characters and situations. The developing relationship between Rochester and Jane was not handled well – Judy Dench was absolutely wasted – the relationship with the Rivers family was never properly enunciated and the ending was just too abrupt. The filming was very dark and lacked the light and shade of transition through seasons. Haddon Hall however is always amazing.
    The whole movie was not a patch on the 2006 version with the amazing Toby Stephens and Ruth Wilson from a beautiful screenplay by Sandy Welsh. I know that the time frame was greatly reduced, but overall the new movie was a major disappointment and felt much akin to the Kiera Knightley/Matthew McFadyen version of Pride and Prejudice – made for people with short attention span who have never read and loved Charlotte Bronte’s beautiful book.
    Sorry, not up to standard for me.

  5. 5plitreel says:

    What a great pair of actors. Fassbender has been my favourite for a while, it’s good to see him get recognition.

    Wonder when I’ll be able to catch this … DVD probs!

  6. @John: There are a couple of very convenient coincidences that come into play, but I felt the film simply took them it its stride.

    @Sue: I don’t think it is fair to say that this version of Jane Eyre and Joe Wright’s version of Pride and Prejudice (which I also really liked) are made for people with short attention spans. The process of adaptation means that a lot of what was in the original novel will need to be condensed and altered to suit the visual medium of film. A made for television miniseries, like the 2006 adaptation you mention, has the luxury of a much longer running time and is not designed to be watched in one sitting, unlike cinema. Otherwise, I found your other comments fascinating in light of your appreciation for the novel, which this film has inspired me to now read.