Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre has seen a plethora of adaptations over the years. The latest release, starring Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender, is actually the 9th film/TV adaptation so far – which doesn’t include the two silent movies made in 1910 and 1914. I was really surprised to find that the much loved Pride and Prejudice has only been adapted 6 times (please correct me if I’m wrong). There is something so deeply passionate and real about Jane Eyre’s life that inspires directors to recreate this love story over and over again. Jane Eyre is easily one my most favourite novels of all time so I am not complaining!
Cary Fukunaga’s Jane Eyre has some glowing reviews. I’m not an expert, but it certainly seems like a beautifully directed film with great acting; the cinematography is gorgeous and the settings and landscapes are extremely lush. I really liked the fact that mostly natural lighting was used, and candles were used in the absence of natural light, which amplified the dark, gothic elements of the novel.
Despite the fact that I have only watched three out of the previous eight adaptations, I actually have a favourite adaptation of Jane Eyre already: the BBC TV series of 2006 with Ruth Wilson and Toby Stephens. So for me, Mia Wasikowska (Alice in Wonderland) and Michael Fassbender (X-Men: First Class) had much to live up to. Did they manage? Mmmm not quite. I liked that Wasikowska was quietly strong and passionate, but for me Jane’s coinciding innocence and wisdom was not quite apparent, nor was her wit and playfulness. Fassbender was probably too easy on the eyes to be a true Rochester, but he played the Byronic characteristics of Rochester’s personality very well – he was fierce, brooding and prone to sudden mood changes. His acting reminded me a little of Richard Armitage’s in North and South, but maybe that’s just me! As with most Jane Eyre adaptations, I felt the character of Rochester was stronger than Jane’s. But I did find that Fassbender was lacking in Rochester’s sarcastic wit and his tongue-in-cheek sense of humour.
I don’t think, however, that what Wasikowska and Fassbender lacked was due to flawed acting skills as such – I just think that the development of Jane and Rochester’s relationship was not given enough screen time. We don’t see many of their long conversations in the evenings, nor do we see Rochester opening up to Jane and revealing his past in detail. This not only means that their relationship is diluted, but it also means that much of the context is missing from the film and it leaves gaps in the story – for example, it’s not properly explained what Rochester’s relationship was with Adele’s mother and how he ended up being Adele’s guardian, and also what exactly happened between Rochester and Bertha.
As for the rest of it…well, I thought it was satisfactory. I’m one of those annoying purists who expects an adaptation to follow the book exactly. I guess everyone has their own interpretations and I should therefore stop being so anal. I guess I don’t mind a few little tweaks as long as I feel it helps the storyline develop or sustains the themes of the original. For example, unlike the novel, Fukunaga’s film starts in media res where Jane flees Thornfield Hall and ends up at the house of St. John after wandering the moors in the middle of a storm. Jane’s story from her childhood leading up to her departure from Thornfield is shown as a series of flashbacks through a very distrssed Jane, delirious with the fever she caught in the storm. I really didn’t mind this, in fact I quite liked the drama it built up at the beginning and throughout the film, making it much more entertaining. The film was certainly dramatic – I’m all for tragic drama – but at the points where the storyline would reach a climax – such as the wedding scene and when Jane is finally reunited with Rochester – it was a complete flop, a total anti-climax. These two scenes especially are so rushed that it leaves one feeling entirely dissatisfied – especially the ending, how abrupt was that?
Much of the symbolism that pervades the novel seems to be completely missing from the novel: young Jane does not see the ghost of her dead uncle in the red room, there are no full moons, no symbolic dreams, there is a no ripped veil and Grace Poole plays no big role. The film also doesn’t give enough credit to the fact that Jane Eyre was one of the first feminist novels in English literature. It needed to be made more obvious that the only reason Jane be reunited with Rochester is because she is finally an independent woman of his equal in society.
Of course, I understand that as a film there is only so much you can squeeze into a two-hour period and a novel of Jane Eyre’s size is bound to be hugely condensed. But I do think that if there had only been ten or fifteen more minutes it would have ‘made’ the film for me; perhaps even if Fukunaga had included the deleted scenes that seem to be floating around on YouTube at the moment. Overall, I think it was good entertainment for someone who is not quite as
obsessed familiar with Jane Eyre – I’ll probably end up purchasing the DVD and watching it on lazy days. But as a true literary adaptation of the original work, the 2006 version is still my favourite.