Latest Jane Eyre Lovely and Damn Tempting!
By Leigh Wood
I had to wait a little bit to see this latest umpteenth adaptation of Jane Eyre from director Cary Fukunaga thanks to its limited release schedule; but hot damn, now I am glad it isn’t at my nearest theater, for then I’d be there every day watching this unabashedly sappy, spooky, and brooding Bronte!
Unless you’re not of this planet, you probably know the story: Young Jane Eyre (Amelia Clarkson, The Sarah Jane Adventures) is treated cruelly by her Aunt Mrs. Reed (Sally Hawkins) and is subsequently sent to the even more horrible Lowood School, where she befriends the sickly Helen (Freya Parks, Creation). Years later, Jane (Mia Wasikowska) takes an appointment as governess to Adele (Romy Settbon Moore), the young French ward of the mysterious master of Thornfield Hall, Edward Rochester (Michael Fassbender). Housekeeper Mrs. Fairfax (Judi Dench) warns Jane of the drafty and scary ways of the house- and to be careful of her budding relationship with Rochester. Thanks to familial secrets and social boundaries, Rochester instead courts socialite Blanche Ingram (Imogen Poots). When marital disaster strikes, Jane eventually flees to the home of St. John Rivers (Jamie Bell). Of course, I’m sure you know how it ends, so I I’ll stop there.
I deliberately stayed away from the numerous onscreen adaptations again or a re-reading of Charlotte Bronte’s 1847 novel in my anticipation of seeing Fukunaga’s (Sin Nombre) supposedly fresh, 21st century, dark interpretation. At first, I was also a little leery of the way the marketing and all was spinning things- it’s been done over 20 times, I suppose there’s only so many ways you can twist and lure in your campaign. Thankfully, the flashback presentation from screenwriter Moira Buffini (The Enlightenment, Byzantium) does work as they said it would, and actually akins this version closer to the framing of my slightly more preferred Wuthering Heights. (The whole implication with Heathcliff and Catherine’s dead body; you know there was something twisted and kinky going on there!) Online venues and magazine reviews of course have already mentioned some of the prior Jane Eyre takes- I suppose I like the 1983 Timothy Dalton version or William Hurt’s 1996 take the best. One always knows their favored JE by the Rochester, does she not? However, the first words out of my Dad’s mouth when I told him I saw this one, “Who’s playing Jane Eyre?” Of course, everyone inevitably mentions the 1944 Orson Welles version, but for my money, the recently late Elizabeth Taylor was the best thing about that one. Oh her little Helen! Maybe it has the time to get deeper into the book, but I’m not a Toby Stephens fan, so the 2006 miniseries was a tough for me. Younger audiences new to the literature can definitely enjoy this version at hand indeed. Despite its flashback angles, it’s straightforward- unlike some of the Masterpiece Theatre fluff we so often expect- but no less intense in its players or tale. Though it may only scratch the surface of the novel, it damn near has me getting my copy from the bookshelf. Teachers and scholars can have a relatable classroom showing when this Jane Eyre comes to DVD, oh yes.
Yes, I’ve always been more partial to Wuthering Heights thanks to the gothic elements and, well, the tormented morbidity out weighing the traditional Austentonion romance. Yuck! Maybe I was younger and didn’t appreciate the relationship or just really like me some kinky implied horror, but when first reading Jane Eyre, I was scared out of my wits. The abuse at Lowood, the budding sinister, mystery, and isolation of Thornfield Hall- I was a little disappointed to find out the supernatural was just a red herring. Fortunately, Fukunaga does keep to his promises of a spookier telling here. The real romance actually comes a little late, and we further feel the love is too good to be true or cannot be thanks to meeting all the creepy night time shenanigans and dangerous moors first. Allowing a few jump in your seats moments both makes room for non period romance fans whilst also strengthening the relationships to come.
Forgive me the pun, but Mia Wasikowska (Alice in Wonderland, The Kids Are All Right, In Treatment) is no plain Jane. She totally transforms into the bland and restricted but no less passionate and spirited Jane and looks completely different from her off-screen style thanks to the rigid corsets and lots of heavy and ugly fabrics. We like Jane from the start, and come to like her even more as she refuses to give Rochester the sob story we’ve seen as any excuse for whatever faults this society may find in her person. We want to see something good finally happen to her- nay we must see a happy ending as a reward for such good convictions. Despite the scares and pessimism and our modern cynicism, we need that damn happy ever after for this Jane! And I’m sorry but I have to let the fan girl deep down inside out and say hell yeah we want her to marry mother fucking Michael Fassbender, because you know damn well you’re upset that you can’t marry him either. You crazy stalkers, you! Fassy’s Rochester may be pretty or at the very least, more pretty than we are accustomed or expect in a brooding older scary Hall master, and thus he perhaps initially seems a little lightweight compared to some of the other renditions. However, this handsome style- goodness the charisma- and presumed levity makes this Rochester all the more intriguing. Why is this seemingly upscale and well-traveled man so interested in little school teacher Jane? Is it all amusing to him? Why does he seek such solace in her? He’s rich and educated and traveled-compared to Jane what does he have to be so dang glum about? Despite their odd pairing, the class divide, and all this Victorian rigidness, there’s actually a lot of intensity between the leads and characters onscreen. I even felt a little giggly in seeing Jane get as blushed as she was going to get- yeah, flustered in the 1840s, oh my! And come on, forget the Fireside Poets, you know you’d want to sit by the hearth all aglow with the Fass. Rochester’s sneaky way of spending time with Jane, egging her intellect forth and including her in the mysteries of the household while at the same time trying to make her jealous and actually keep his secrets, it’s all just great. I want to let out a big happy sigh. Even with society pushing these two iconic players up against the wall, you want to see the happy ever after. It’s all a little pre-Dickensian how wealth, tragedy, and circumstance come into play, but I’d rather have this justice, irony, people, and plot than special effects. Graphics are so meager in comparison!
My only major fear here is that the twitty text obsessed current generation will be scratching their heads at the old speaketh, not understand the subtly of what is being said, and thus think Jane Eyre a stuffy and crappy movie. Which, if that comes to be the case, then it is a mother fucking pity! Frankly, if we ever needed a reason to return to not ending sentences with prepositions (besides, you know, that it’s the grammatically correct way to speak) it may be this movie. Who knew proper English could sound as sweet and enchanting as this? While I’d love to be proven wrong, I’m also sad to say that I don’t see Oscar wins for Mia and Michael for this film. There’ll be nominations and other award wins for sure- I’d be pissed if there were no acknowledgments or hardware recognition! However, I fear competition will be tight and the dopey Academy may be tired of Jane Eyre adaptations in general, or consider the performances here only similar to or on par with the standard in this latest wave of beloved Austen-esque material. It’s an Oscar ‘Almost there, kids!’ rookie dismissal instead hoping that these leads will go on to bigger and better films they need not share with so many literary others. Mia has already had plenty of this youthful acclaim- if it were up to me, she should win Best Actress just for being the best Jane yet. And as far as I’m concerned Fassbender has already given three potentially Academy worthy performances in Hunger (Too IRA political for the Oscars? Hogwash! You can award Bale for his starvation and not Fass?), Fish Tank (We can’t acknowledge fine performance if there’s a hint of pedophilia but we can award Polanski?), and Inglourious Basterds (If Waltz wasn’t so good as Landa, Fassy would have at least deserved the Supporting nom, Hicox was da bomb!). He needs to be acknowledged by the American film establishment and soon! If Fassbender were to receive a Supporting nod here but go home with Best Actor for the upcoming A Dangerous Method or Shame, I would be as content as the Happy Little Clouds in a Bob Ross painting. If it were vice versa or both, I’d be orgasmic. Of course, no man has ever one the Supporting Actor and Best Actor in one year, but The Fass has The Power of Grayskull to do so, no lie. He’s also going to be Magneto in X-Men: First Class for goodness sake!
Ahem, there is all this lead steamy somehow taut amid the rigid and stuffy Victorian ways, but let’s admit there is something near enchanting about such style, formality, and class. Not their ridiculous obsession with social status, but you know, a sense of grace and carriage about themselves where one would not use a phrase like ‘you know’. Of course, Dame Judi Dench (how can you be a filmgoer today and need a Dame Judi reference?) always has such a classic element about her person and her good-natured Mrs. Fairfax adds just the right amount of humor and levity or honest concern when needed. This is not in the stereotypically fluttering English housekeeper oi oi oh me oh my fan and faint played up for the laughs either, thank goodness. Likewise, Jamie Bell (Billy Elliot, Nicholas Nickleby, The Eagle- do you think him and Fass compared with Centurion?) is very impressive as the passive and buttoned up minister St. John Rivers who nonetheless carries a reserved silent strength and latent admiration for Jane. While his feeling is probably no less in emotion or care, Bell perfectly captures the restraint of the time via St. John. Had he lived today, I’ve no doubt he’d run off to India with an unattached Jane for charity and adventure, conventions be damned- there’s that much good and wonder in his soul, really there must be- he just can’t show it! Ah, those lovely 19th century formalities come with a very restrictive downside, don’t they? Dench and Bell, I do believe stand a better chance to walk away next year with some Supporting hardware from Jane Eyre. Unfortunately, we don’t see as much of Sally Hawkins (Persuasion), Imogen Poots (Centurion- in a movie with Fassbender twice! That, at least partially, makes up for her unique but someone unfortunate name), Tazmin Merchant (The Tudors) or other characters as finite fans of the novel may have expected. However, everyone is on form nonetheless and fits the look in period fine fashions, unlike most of the new Hollywood crowd who would be preposterously unbelievable in Princess Leia buns or mutton chops. Fass may very well bring them back- after all, they worked for Isaac Asimov!
Unfortunately, though it adds a wonderfully realistic ambiance and timeless, spooky look, not all may enjoy the dark candlelit cinematography in Jane Eyre. Even in the almost all-dark theater, a few scenes are just a little too dim for our modern eyes. We are just too accustomed to glowing monitors, screens, day glow phones, and lit buttons to appreciate how critical candles were to these people- or how much darkness and suggestion could so easily scare them. But of course, the costumes and set design are definitely awards top notch. Likewise, these are great locations; you can imagine in our idealized Bronte mind that this is how England really used to look, or may even still look in the furthest misty and isolated Midlands. We all need those great shawls and hefty velvet bed curtains while we snuggle up beside a hearth that’s big enough to fit you and all those petticoats! The fashions are both enticing in their lace, form, and classic beauty- no one can really look ugly in such style- while being old fashioned, over the top and cumbersome at the same time. It’s amazing how the wardrobe advances the attraction as well. These people are so prim and proper and even their nightgowns are so lacy and ruffled- and yet there is something so friggin’ juicy when they do glimpse each other in those flirty white and barely there gowns and caps! And Fassbender! My God, those silk and satin frock coats, waist jackets, tight pants and high boots. I swear, I wish men still dressed like this! Everyone is talking about the mutton chops, but by time you are well into Jane Eyre, the looks and styles come naturally. Later in the evening after seeing the film, I found myself turning to the television expecting to return to the Midlands; only to remember, oh yeah, that was this afternoon at the movies. I just have this urge to dig up the old Civil War re-enactors gear, tighten up my corset, and perch on the edge of my wing backed chair with Little Women! Ah, this is the power of cinema!
I’ve meandered in my favorable comments and let my fan girl get the better of me, but this Jane Eyre isn’t totally perfect. Again, I hope to see numerous awards and acclaim coming, including serious Oscar attention. (If I say it enough, they may hear me.) However, there are a few strikes against the film. While it’s all an intriguing spin, there may be too much missing from the screenplay for purists to consider an Adapted Screenplay nomination. Likewise, though the direction is lovely, American audiences may find it too slow or feel something is too broad or understated in the silent scenes. Some things are understandably missing do to Jane Eyre’s 2 hours runtime, so hopefully any and all extra material will be included on the eventual video release. At a quick glance, it seems like at least ten shots in the much loved trailer are absent, and I’m really not sure why these are lost. If they powers that be have only planned a limited theatrical run, there is no need to excise necessary scenes to squeeze as many showings into the day as possible. It’s a shame really, because some of those lost scenes fester this somewhat incomplete feeling for Jane Eyre enthusiasts and probably hurt this film’s Best Picture chances. We’re not talking about Return of the King and its dozen endings adding character moments and explanations for the Extended Edition here. Perhaps with these spread out releases and international designs forthcoming, maybe more will be put back into this Jane Eyre in an awards season push. Then again, maybe they just think us Americans won’t get it so they gave us the quick and easy Cliff Notes version.
Thankfully, even in limited box office, stateside audiences are getting this dose of Jane Eyre. It was mostly women in the theater when we went, and it was not quite half full for this the second noon showing. Though I don’t wish to be a stereotypical girl and condone the occasionally negative implications on JE as super romance and for the feminine only- heck my Dad loves this book!- there were only two or three men in the theater. They were coupled with old ladies who probably dragged them to the cinema and could hardly even hear-sometimes the ladies had to whisper some of the softer dialogue to them! Longtime fans of the novel and previous adaptations can, will, and should definitely take in this Jane Eyre and delight. New audiences, fans of the cast, and younger viewers can also enjoy casually for the first time or fall in love with Charlotte Bronte, Jane, Mia, Rochester, Fassy, or Jamie Bell. You should damn well already love Judi Dench. If you haven’t read the book, clear your literary schedule or plan to spend a lot of time at the movies with Jane Eyre’s Victorian visuals this spring.