By Carolyn Williams
First published in 1847 under the pen name Currer Bell, Charlotte Brontë’s “Jane Eyre” has since become one of the best-loved and most widely read books in English literature. Eighteen film and nine television adaptations later comes the latest film version, Cary Fukunaga’s vision of the classic Gothic romance.
Much of the book’s beginning is conveyed in less detail than prior adaptations. Fukunaga breaks tradition by starting the film as Jane (Mia Wasikowska,“The Kids Are Alright”) wanders the moors on the verge of death. Much of the story is told by flashbacks during Jane’s stay in Moor House with St. John Rivers (Jamie Bell, “Billy Elliot”) and his sisters Mary and Diana. As Jane conceals her identity with the alibi of Jane Elliot, she is haunted by images of the life she has left behind, and she tells her prior story in unexpected fits and starts.
An orphan, Jane was raised by her spiteful Aunt Reed, who shares her children’s distaste for the fiery and passionate Jane, defying her husband’s dying wish by sending Jane off to Lowood School. There, slandered as a liar, Jane suffers further, emerging 10 years later as a young governess to take her place at Thornfield Hall.
At Thornfield, Jane is the governess of the endearing Adele Varens, ward to the absent master of the estate, Mr. Rochester (Michael Fassbender, “Inglorious Basterds”). Genuinely happy for the first time in her life, Jane befriends the elderly housekeeper Mrs. Fairfax (Judi Dench) and is, for a time, at peace.
Mr. Rochester’s arrival changes everything, as Jane finds a true kindred spirit and falls in love, despite the disparity in situation and age between them. Though she despairs over the problem posed by her far more suitable rival, Blanche Ingram, she believes herself truly happy when Rochester declares himself, and they prepare for their unusual union. However, as Jane fans everywhere know, things certainly do not go according to plan.
This adaptation of “Jane Eyre” varies from its predecessors in several vital ways. It takes a more visceral perspective on the novel and is probably more accurate because of it. Cutting through the typical folderol of a period romance, starkness abounds, which better suits Brontë’s characters. Wasikowska wears ugly dresses and, thankfully, is made as unglamorous as possible, in keeping with the Jane of Brontë’s vision. As usual for actors in the role of Rochester, Fassbender is a little too handsome to pass muster, but his performance is a strong one.
“I was blinded by the performance of Michael Fassbender as the morose but charismatic Mr. Rochester,” Ava Giuliano ’14 said.
Fukunaga’s “Jane Eyre” is also notable for its well-placed use of the book’s more frightening aspects as he plays upon the tangible sense of eerie uncertainty at Thornfield which permeates the work. But most importantly, Wasikowska shines in the title role. Like Fassbender’s Rochester, her Jane is less dramatic than some, drawing upon Jane’s firm strength of character and religious conviction to create an albeit subdued, but overall more believable interpretation of the story’s heroine. “Jane Eyre” truly captures the spirit of the beloved novel and is quite possibly one of the best adaptations yet.