Mia Wasikowska, Michael Fassbender
Directed by Cary Fukunaga
Jane Eyre is a classic novel about a young governess who falls in love with Mr. Rochester, the master of Thornfield Hall. Though twice her age, he is captivated by her passionate nature and innocence. He withholds a troubling secret from her that is revealed by the climax and her heartbreak causes her to runaway from him.
There is so much more to this story than a lovesick young girl. Jane Eyre is a young woman with high standards, who was taught obedience in a boarding school for poor orphans when her rich Aunt Reed disowned her. Jane has enough skills to be considered working for a family of high status. When she runs away and obtains a new position as a school teacher to poor farm girls, her employer is afraid to lose her to a better suited job.
It’s always hard to do justice by converting a book to screen, but this 2011 version by Focus Features (which do a lot of my favorite period piece movies) failed to satisfy me. I went into this movie biased because the mini series of Jane Eyre, that was made only a few years prior (2006) to the movie adaptation, is my favorite. The 2006 version has caught almost all the detail and Toby Stephens makes a compelling Mr. Rochester (sorry Michael Fassbender, I still admire you!).
The 2011 version of Jane Eyre will be what this review focuses on. To begin on the positive note, Jane Eyre was a beautifully made film. From the cinematography capturing the stunning scenery surrounding Thornfield Hall to the soft composition in the background to elevate emotion. Wasikowska played a believable Jane Eyre. She was strong yet able to show the distress Jane felt when facing difficult situations; like the possibility of leaving Mr. Rochester due to his impending marriage to Blanche Ingram, and then eventually leaving him when it’s revealed that he is married to someone else. One element lacking in Jane’s character (through no fault of Wasikowska but through the writing on her character) was Jane’s pride. Her period of engagement to Mr. Rochester is too brief in the movie and the interaction between Jane and Mr. Rochester is a lot more open. They express more often their happiness and love but Book Jane holds back a little. Book Jane knows her engagement could be “too good to be true” and wants to remain a little distant from Mr. Rochester (no hugging or kissing) until the wedding day.
A scene I was most anxious about and was disappointed in, was the the proposal scene between Mr. Rochester and Jane. Here, Mr. Rochester suggests that Jane will be moving to Ireland to governess for another family. Jane is distraught and her passion comes out as she cries how unbearable the distance between Ireland and Thornfield Hall will be. It’s a touching scene in the book and in the movie is played out as Jane is suggests her own dismissal from Thornfield. Mr. Rochester holds all the power in this scene because he is responsible for Jane’s happiness. He teases her about possibly marrying Blanche Ingram to get a reaction from her, but when he reveals it’s Jane he intends to marry the tender joy radiates from screen to viewer.
Michael Fassbender as Mr. Rochester does a good job, but there’s something missing in his portrayal. He can memorize his lines and portray emotion but it seems there’s a lack of chemistry between the two main characters. There aren’t enough scenes between Mr. Rochester and Jane to see the quick glances of a love growing between them. Fassbender can play Mr. Rochester but he just can’t be him.
One other thing- through no fault of the actor but the screenwriting- why didn’t they properly mutilate his character from the fire? Is it because he’s handsome and don’t want to ruin his image? Mr. Rochester isn’t supposed to be handsome and Jane says so herself. She loves him for his character and through his injuries (missing one hand, blind in both eyes) she can love him even more. I don’t know why the movie was edited as it was because starting from the middle/end of the story was frustrating. There was good editing of Young Jane’s childhood but it brought me out of the movie as it transitioned to a future time and then back to the early stages of the story. But then the end itself was lacking! Finding Mr. Rochester outside nowhere near the house he has isolated himself to was disappointing. It was more satisfying when Jane finds him sitting in the dark parlor of his house in the woods. It shows the change Mr. Rochester goes through after resigning himself to believing Jane was gone from his life forever to realizing she will be back to support him.
Overall, Jane Eyre was good enough for those who haven’t read the story but disappointing in it’s re-telling to faithful fans.
Photo credit: http://www.michaelfassbender.org/jane-eyre-2011-promo-303.jpg