Think your life is tough? It’s a difficult claim to make after witnessing the latest filmic adaptation of the perpetually tormented title character in Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre.
For those who aren’t up on their Masterpiece Theatre screenings, Brontë was a famous English author praised for deftly tackling and criticizing social class structure and the sexist attitudes of the era. In general, her work tends to be very serious and often more maudlin and melodramatic than her predecessors (like Jane Austin, author of Pride and Prejudice). Jane Eyre ranks among her most respected and chilling works.
After a quick intro establishing that some sort of tragedy has befallen Jane Eyre (Alice in Wonderland’s Mia Wasikowska), the film uses flashback to establish the horrific mistreatment she received during her upbringing. The majority of the film focuses on her employment as Governess for a wealthy Edward Rochester (Michael Fassbender). Initially rude and unpleasant, Rochester is taken aback by Eyre’s inner strength and sharp wit. Naturally, a relationship blooms, though questions remain about the secretive Lord’s history – namely, the strange sounds heard within the estate walls and violent accidents that befall visitors.
This is a restrained and mostly quiet film adaptation, but director Cary Fukunaga doesn’t shy away from the book’s grimmer aspects. He explicitly depicts the deplorable treatment of Eyre through her childhood and boarding school days. Later in the film, suspense is maximized during several eerie candlelit sequences featuring Eyre investigating the strange rumblings. There are even a couple of effective and unexpected jump scares.
The English countryside and moors are presented as harsh and unforgiving. Filmed in a monochromatic gray, the color palette matches unpleasantness of Eyre’s life and the thunderclap laden sound design adds to the visuals with an appropriate sense of foreboding.
Wasikowska appears plain and is almost unrecognizable from her appearance in Alice in Wonderland, perfectly capturing the dowdy look of the character, and, while portraying a seriously flawed character, Fassbender manages to make him relatable enough to keep audiences interested. Turning up alongside the young cast to add an air of authenticity is the consistently excellent Judi Dench as housekeeper Mrs. Fairfax, confidant and friend to the protagonist.
Certainly, this is an abbreviated, “Coles Notes” version of the story (lengthy television miniseries have been adapted from the original novel), but as a viewer not intimately familiar with the source material, the story flows smoothly and without obvious plot holes. It may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but the performances here are excellent and there is little on technical level to criticize. Jane Eyre should fulfill the expectations of fans of the classic as well as those looking for a good entry point to British historical drama.
4 out of 5