A rather anemic version of Charlotte Bronte’s classic novel, Focus Film and BBC’s Jane Eyre favors atmosphere over strong narrative. While Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender gave extraordinary performances, the film as a whole lacked cohesiveness. Released in theatres on March 11, Jane Eyre is a faithful but not inspired rendition of the timeless gothic romance.
Jane Eyre is the heroine of Bronte’s classic novel, a gothic romance full of dark secrets and forbidden loves. Jane (Wasikowska) is a passionate soul, though she is reserved and highly moral. Orphaned as a child, Jane goes to live with her distant aunt and abusive cousins. She is despised by her aunt and cousins, and before long sent away to an austere charity school. There she receives a first-class education, but it is a cold and strict environment for a young girl. When she graduates as an intelligent, sheltered young woman, she advertises for work as a governess and gets employment at Thornfield Hall.Jane hasn’t experienced much of life, but she’s very susceptible and imaginative. The ancient stones of Thornfield Hall spark her vivid imagination, as does the master of Thornfield Hall, Mr. Rochester (Fassbender). Jane finds herself drawn into Rochester’s world, a dark place full of secrets and maybe even a few ghosts. When Rochester proposes marriage, Jane thinks she has finally found true happiness. But will his secrets ruin everything?
The film follows the novel accurately, while leaving some portions of the story under-developed or even omitted entirely. The novel is written in three major sections; the first is Jane’s childhood. This part of the film is done well. Plenty of time with Jane in her aunt’s home and at Lowoods, establishing her as a passionate child with strong moral fiber. But the balance is thrown off in the latter part of the film, as if too much time is spent on her childhood and so her romance/reconciliation feels hurried.
At the start of the film, I felt the care director Cary Fukunaga took with developing a gothic atmosphere was laudable. Bronte’s novel is, above all, a gothic romance. The gothic elements become a very important part of the story; the eerie atmosphere, the superstition playing against the religiosity, the skeletons (sometimes literally) in the closet. But while establishing this great atmosphere and artistic vision of the novel, Fukunaga and screenwriter Moira Buffini let key elements of the story itself slide. The blooming romance between embittered Rochester and upright Jane is given time and attention, but the disastrous effects of Rochester’s secrets coming to light are underplayed, as are the remaining portions of the story/film. Also, while Jane’s character is given plenty of development other core characters are skipped over, including Mr. Rochester.
Wasikowska (Alice in Wonderland) presented a very believable Jane Eyre. Jane is supposed to be very plain and small, and Wasikowska has that non-classical prettiness that fit the character of Jane perfectly. Her face assumes a natural sullenness, which at times I thought bordered on sulky, but on the whole her looks and demeanor sold me. Mr. Rochester is a Titan in classical literature; the dark, tortured romantic anti-hero. Fassbender (Inglourious Basterds) also did a great job bringing the character to life. Rochester is also supposed to be rather unattractive physically, and Fassbender’s Rochester is dark and commanding without relying on his good looks, which are understated. Dame Judi Dench played a flighty Mrs. Fairfax with aplomb. Deviating some from her typical strong-female role, Dench delivered a great co-starring performance.
The film’s score matched the feel of the film. A number of classical, haunting piano themes reinforced the time period and classical nature of the story. Unfortunately, I felt the overuse of a particular piano score became tedious. The simple melodic notes were played on what sounded like a really old piano, so there was a brash, almost tinny quality to it. As if it were on the verge of being out of tune.
Considering how many film versions of Jane Eyre are out there (and I’ve seen just about all of them), I understand it’s probably difficult to make a film version that stands out from the rest. My problem with this version is that it lacked the necessary cohesiveness to give the emotional and romantic elements of the story meaning. A strong narrative was sacrificed for emotional/atmospheric elements. It ended up playing like an atmospheric series of themed vignettes. Selections taken from Bronte’s novel run against a backdrop of highly artistic sets make for visually appealing scenes, but becomes detrimental to the story as a whole. Thus, while beautiful and moving, the film feels undeveloped.