Jane Eyre

Michael Fassbender and Mia Wasikowska in Cary Fukunaga's 2011 version of Jane Eyre.

Darkly Fascinating Retelling of Bronte’s Novel

Rating: ***

I’ve seen two versions of Jane Eyre before I chanced upon this. The 1943 version was a classic which starred Joan Fontaine and Orson Welles. The 1996 version, despite its high production value wasn’t satisfactory when it came to performances. William Hurt was miscast as Rochester and so was Charlotte Gainsbourg as Jane. There is another adaptation, released in 1970 which starred Susannah York and George C. Scott.

This 2011 retelling is directed by Cary Fukunaga. Dark elements have been added to the screenplay and while a few contents from the novel have been snipped, screenwriter Moira Buffini brings to life a darkly fascinating Jane Eyre. Presented in In Media Res mode, Jane’s life flashes back and forth through the years of visual torture she experienced at her aunt’s home and at Lowood School. While the earlier versions didn’t reveal much about her torture, Fukunaga takes his time in exposing what harsh realities Jane has been subjected to.

Mia Wasikowska is bang on as Jane Eyre. Her simplistic portrayal of the governess is ardently conservative. The film promotes proto-feminism which was first introduced in the novel. 22-year old Ms. Wasikowska puts up a ravenous show in the scenes where she confronts Rochester’s freewill. Michael Fassbender easily trots into shoes of the Byronic Hero, Edward Rochester. Once he descends his cold eyes on Jane, he’s hooked on to her simplicity. But, he takes his own time in explaining his love of her. Nevertheless, Fassbender has the spirit of the character.

While Judi Dench’s Mrs. Fairfax doesn’t appear as jovial as the character does in the novel, there are moments where she relegates her co-stars into mere puppets. Cinematographer Adriano Goldman hops from one place to another, filling the screen with luscious English architecture.

The references to the earlier versions are just a syllable to what Fukunaga’s version transpires to be. The film redeems itself of the novel’s gothic allusion and is pertinent to Bronte’s vision of the troubled damsel who wanted nothing but a full life. Apparently, quite a few scenes have been excluded. But, I hear Fukunaga is planning to release a Director’s Cut which will have 30 minutes of extra footage.

While Jane Eyre isn’t shot in the Kubrickian way, it doesn’t slog either. It is an indication that this tale of passion hasn’t died out. But, I’m in doubts about the future adaptations of the novel as today’s fantasy readers are thriving about vampires and magic.

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