I must admit from the start, I never read the classic novel, Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte. In my high school, we were given several novels to choose between. I went the Steinbeck and Dickens route. That being said, I was not totally unaware of the plot of the book before seeing Cary Fukunaga new adaptation of Bronte's most famous work (there have been over forty-five to date).
Of course it is not possible to properly translate a 400 page novel into a two-hour movie. There are always cuts, and creative decisions to be made to convey the essence of the story. And very cleverly, screenwriter Moira Buffini has done just that. Jane's bitter and abusive childhood is recalled by a number of well-placed, and well-acted flashbacks.
Amelia Clarkson, as a young Jane, gives Jane a defiant, yet compassionate character. I was really taken by the performance of this young actress. She embodies the strength of will that allows Jane to triumph over the hypocrisy she sees in the self-righteous around her. It is that strength of character that forces her into the bleak, cold, wet moors, when faced with a choice that is abhorrent to her sense of morality. Australian actress Mia Wasikowska (Alice in Wonderland, The Kids Are All Right), continues to show she is a talent to be reckoned with. At a mere 21, she brings a maturity and strength to the role that belays her age. There is a quiet strength in Jane that needs to come through, and Wasikowska demonstrates it flawlessly. Not to sound silly, but I think her hair style, an exquisitely braided tight spiral of hair tight against her head, perfectly symbolizes Jane's tight rein on her emotions. When she "let's her hair down" and allows herself to be vulnerable, she shows the complexity of her humanity. A side-note, it was reported that Wasikowska suffered from hypothermia the second day of shooting as she struggled through the rain soaked, and muddy countryside of England. It was shot so beautifully, I could almost feel the chilly air swirl around me as I watched Jane struggle through the desolation.
That brings me to the cinematography. We just finished the Hollywood awards season, but I think Adriano Goldman (Sin Nombre) should be clearing his calendar for next year. There are moments in Jane Eyre that made me feel like I was watching a Vermeer or Rembrandt come to life. The use of shadow and candle light were beautifully executed. And the sense of desolation conveyed in the lighting and capturing of the moors was palpable. There is a moment when the screen is almost black, and a fire is started in the fireplace. The effect was mesmerizing as it illuminated Wasikowska's face.
As Mr. Rochester, Irish born actor Michael Fassbender (Inglourious Basterds) brings the required dark, brooding to the character. He plays Rochester a good ten years younger than the character was written by Bronte. In so, he is able to convey a physical strength, and an aura of intimidation to those around him. I found the on screen chemistry between he and Wasikowska very believable. They did play off each other well. In one of the most famous scenes from the book, when Jane confronts him and informs Rochester of her leaving, the pair really shines. As the housekeeper Mrs. Fairfax, the brilliant Judi Dench, who elevates everything she is in, is perfect. She brings a sense of kindness and motherliness that Jane has not known. As St. John Rivers, Jamie Bell (Billy Elliot, Jumpers) shines. He portrays him as a kind and Christian man, who is actually rather cold and calculating. I really enjoyed his performance. It could be very easy to go over the top with a character like this one, but Bell keeps him restrained and even likeable ... to a point.
This of course is a period-piece. And Academy-Award winner Michael O'Connor's (The Duchess) costumes are an integral part of the production. His use of muted fabrics to dress Jane, emphasis her "plainness," especially when compared to the richly detailed elaborate dresses of her aunt and Mr. Rochester's new fiancée, Blanche Ingram. At the helm of this epic story, is of course the director, Cary Funkunaga (Sin Nombre). He has created a film that captures the gothic qualities of the novel. There are moments of suspense, and old fashioned scares. He keeps the pacing brisk. And the story flows. So, even if you have never read the source material, give Jane Eyre a chance and you won't be disappointed.
Rating: THREE BONES
Release Date: March 25th, 2011 at the Landmark Maple Art Theatre in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan; look for it in select theatres across the country
Starring: Mia Wasikowska, Michael Fassbender, Jamie Bell, Judi Dench, Holliday Grainger, and Sally Hawkins
Director: Cary Fukunaga
Writer: Moira Buffini