The New Jane Eyre is Better on Blu-Ray
By Kristin Battestella
Instead of a Dickensian Christmas- that Victorian treat is being saved for Dickens’ bicentennial in a few months- I’m taking time out to revisit the new 2011 Jane Eyre on blu-ray. After all, it is the Fassbender Festivus, don’t forget.
Governess Jane Eyre (Mia Wasikowska) abandons Thornfield Hall and the manor’s mysterious master Edward Rochester (Michael Fassbender) - with whom she has fallen in love. While recuperating at the home of minister St. John Rivers (Jamie Bell), Jane remembers her unscrupulous Aunt Reed (Sally Hawkins, Happy-Go-Lucky) and the ruthless Lowood School before coming to meet housekeeper Mrs. Fairfax (Judi Dench) and her charge at Thornfield, Adele (Romy Settbon Moore). Will Jane be able to escape society’s confines and Thornfield’s secrets and be true to herself?
Charlotte Bronte’s 1847 tale is a familiar one indeed. Thankfully, director Cary Fukunaga (Sin Nombre) and screenwriter Moira Buffini (Tamara Drewe) play with an untraditional timeline- and the changes are great. This flashback storytelling creates more suspense and mystery- especially if one didn’t know the Jane Eyre story. The Lowood scenes are also dynamic, with just enough twistedness. I do, however, wish there was more of Freya Parks (Creation) as sickly little Helen and newcomer Romy Settbon Moore as Adele. Those unfamiliar with the novel might not quite understand her relationship to Rochester here. Fortunately, the literary dialogue shines in lovely fireside scenes. Though everyone is held in check by the Victorian customs, there is plenty of heat and tension amid the firelight or nighttime blue conversations. The superb natural camerawork, light and shadow plan, and period photography all do wonders- but I do wish there were more of the missing cuts and deleted scenes instead of a few slower transitions. This Jane Eyre is not slow paced by any means- the suspense telling is quite the contrast from other period films in fact. However, we shouldn’t pause for pretty reflection and romantic montages when there is so much more from the book to tell. Likewise, despite those great darker storytelling strides, the presentation could have been a lot spookier. I always find it a disappointment as to what was really going on in the depths of Thornfield Hall, but romance fans and period drama lovers will eat this Jane Eyre up. All the societal barriers, conflict, and love triangles are here without being uber sappy and overwhelming for non-fans. Again, the retained language from the book is just great; you want to be able to quote this stuff in regular conversation! I actually prefer this Jane Eyre here on blu-ray more than having seen it in the cinema. At home, you can see everything, hear everything, and read the words onscreen. Sigh.
Though a delightful encapsulation and presentation all around, I do have a few quibbles. The deleted scenes- snips only available previously in the Jane Eyre trailer- are not restored in the film proper. Most of these scenes are longer set up bits and transition extras and probably excised for good reason, yes. However, there is no reason to not put these 16 minutes back into the picture for the video release, as several of these pieces give much needed exposition about Rochester’s relationship to Adele. Their absence takes a lot away if you consider the fact that this Jane Eyre film is trying to do in 2 hours what the 2006 miniseries did in 6. The loss of extra scenes with Helen’s ghost and a very creepy Bertha also makes this Jane seem somewhat lightweight- even as it prides itself on its would be horror tone. What’s worse is some bits still appear to be missing from the trailer. Awards acclaim is happening for Jane Eyre, but not as much as there could be, in part perhaps because it is as if the production didn’t go all the way or at least take their Jane Eyre vision as far as they could have. The blu-ray release is indicative of this fault. Take the time you need, tell your tale to the fullest, sell your ‘for your consideration’ on video where there are abso-toot-ly no restrictions.
Fortunately, Mia Wasikowska (The Kids are All Right) gives everything to her embodiment of the eponymous governess, measure for measure indeed. Mia makes no pretentions as Jane nor trumps up any airs or graces, and yet there is such a poise and old world class to her performance. Despite being a truly good girl, Jane just can’t help but put her intelligence and self-respect above her station- which was a big Victorian no-no. We instantly like Jane and enjoy her transformation from sickly and pale to radiant and confident. Jane’s unusual relationship with Rochester opens them both up, and Bronte’s dialogue is delivered in perfect banter and timing. Jane sounds so good, strong, and natural. It really makes you wonder why we don’t speak like this anymore or carry ourselves with such properness or value. But of course, these societal barriers must be broken down for Jane, and this silent battle and forgetting oneself is addictive! Despite being bound by their respective conventions, Jane and Rochester recognize their kindred souls. Mia and Fassbender are great together, and that’s all the more props and ‘Go Jane!’ for not giving into Rochester! I wish more women today stuck to their convictions as Jane does. And don’t say we do, just take a look at all the talentless people selling their souls on reality television! Charlotte and Jane are quite progressive for their day, with great Dickensian circumstance before Dickensian turnabout was so decidedly Dickensian!
And what of That Fass? Oh, if there was ever a greater literary introduction than Rochester’s- and Fassbender works it! Rochester’s angry debut was my favorite part of reading the book as a kid. I found it so scary, as if the Master of Thornfield is just an apparition, a dreamed up phantom. Who is this nasty guy wanting such respect and service and yet being such a pesky ass himself? All this brood is established in the character, but Fassy’s Rochester is also dang cool. You want to slap him for his initial snarky and attempts at jealous with the shallow Ms. Ingram. But Rochester is also socially unobtainable to Jane, and thus all the more attractive. Fassbender layers in a great spin to his voice, a deeper, harsh, received Victorian, and that fireside conversation with Jane is simply excellent. Fassbender keeps Rochester menacing, but sexy, tongue in cheek, and intelligent. Not many actors today can pull off such balance, much less look so perfect about it. Fassbender hides Rochester’s loneliness with begrudging attitude. He wants a friend and trusts no one but Jane, this spitfire who doesn’t quite know it yet has just stirred him so! When Rochester does get frank and opens himself up, it is no less intimidating even if there is quite the sigh worthy and backwardly flirtatious wink wink. The audience gets swept up along with Jane, as Fassbender again completely disappears into his performance. He looks totally dang different in every frickin film he’s in this year, and hardware is rolling in for Fassy’s work in Jane Eyre, X-Men: First Class, A Dangerous Method, and Shame.
The fan girls may make Jane Eyre just another episode in The Michael Fassbender Show, but I wish more attention was paid to Jamie Bell (The Adventures of Tin Tin, Billy Elliot) as St. John Rivers. He is warmhearted yet stilted by his position. John is not willing to break his society’s standards regardless of how he really feels. We like him, but feel sorry for him at the same time. There also isn’t much time spent on Imogen Poots (Centurion) and Tazmin Merchant (The Tudors), though there is an intriguing examination in their opposite representations- snotty Blanche deserving none of her privilege and poor but entitled to more Mary Rivers. Amelia Clarkson (The Sarah Jane Adventures) is also wonderful as the young Jane. You could have spent the entire two hours just on her at Lowood! I don’t have much to say about Dame Judi Dench (Shakespeare in Love) except that she is simply awesome and time traveled to research this role, I swear!
I am quite pleased to see Jane Eyre getting some- a few but not all- technical awards and recognition. The costumes- upscale, humble, men, women, horses!- are just divine. I love everyone’s frilly nightgowns and heavy frocks- I love the word ‘frocks’ almost as much as this wardrobe! There is no reason to not award the clothes or décor in this picture. This Jane Eyre has the looks of today with modern filmmaking in mind, yet it also seems to be old, as if it were made then. The music and score are also wonderfully authentic, with emotional strings and piano from Oscar winner Dario Marianelli (Atonement). Even the horrid Lowood school looks wonderful along with all the locations and decorations high and low Oh, Thornfield! There is such a bright and happy castle charm, but also a cold, foreboding, mysterious slight. The Hall does seem like Jane’s salvation, but it is a delicate balance between that happiness and the spooky and brooding. Jane Eyre’s foggy, stormy scenery allows for illusions and phantoms on the wind while the lovely English gardens visually layer the happiness, ornamentation, or upscale torment as needed. Major props also for the perfect use of that period lighting. The flickering casts change to highlight characters- Lowood is overshadowed and bleak but Helen’s scenes have a halo aspect to them. It’s all natural lighting, and yet there’s just a hint of supernatural glaze. The candles and firelight work two fold in creating old-fashioned warmth and ambiance and more darkness and shadows. This dark and light looks just perfect on blu-ray; you can see everything clearly amid the lovely glow.
But of course, for all the glory that is the visuals on blu-ray, the BD live features and meaningless previews are a real pain! These long winded opening delays and annoying pop ups aren’t trailers like the cinema- they are commercials. Don’t kid us! I also had a panic when I couldn’t immediately find the subtitles option. Not only were they somewhat cumbersomely placed, but a soft spoken period picture with great English English of olde such as this requires them. The director’s commentary is nice, but the behind the scenes features are too brief. Separate shorts on music and lighting are better, but the total is not nearly enough for today. More insightful interviews and featurettes can be found online. Again, Jane Eyre’s release on video seems like it was a bit rushed or even an afterthought when it could have been much, much more. Where are the costuming features? Full cast interviews and video diaries? A conversation with screenwriter Moira Buffini and a book to film discussion would have been awesome!
Fans of the Charlotte Bronte classic should definitely see this Jane Eyre. Even in even this short adaptation, there is so much to dissect, divulge, and study. While some definitive enthusiasts might find the reduced time or structure changes here too altered, this quick Bronte fix is perfect for classroom analysis, fans of the cast, and period piece aficionados. Fortunately, the blu-ray price has come down in recent months, too, so there’s more opportunity to rent or buy. Indulge your Victorian sensibilities and spend the night at Thornfield with Jane Eyre.