2011, PG-13, 115 min. Directed by Cary Fukunaga. Starring Mia Wasikowska, Michael Fassbender, Judi Dench, Jamie Bell, Sally Hawkins, Simon McBurney, Amelia Clarkson, Imogen Poots.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., March 25, 2011
Jane Eyre, one of cinema’s most frequently filmed novels, is once again on our screens in a handsomely mounted new version. That Charlotte Brontë’s Gothic novel, which was published in 1847, has seen so many incarnations is a testament to her story’s enduring power to speak across generations and eras. The character of Jane Eyre, with her proto-feminist longings and strong moral center, and the love she shares with Edward Rochester, her employer and a classic Byronic hero, serve as bellwethers that beckon modern storytellers again and again. This new screenplay adaptation by Moira Buffini (who also adapted Tamara Drewe from Posy Simmonds’ graphic novel) is reasonably faithful to Brontë’s 38-chapter novel, and director Fukunaga in his sophomore feature (Sin Nombre) displays a firm visual hand and expressionistic mastery of re-creating the look of 19th century lighting modes. Even those famed foggy moors have a palpable look that’s capable of enveloping our heroine and her viewers within its murkiness. The only aspect of Fukunaga’s Jane Eyre that is not fully palpable, however, is the passion that passes between the governess and her master. Wasikowska and Fassbender are both splendid as Jane and Edward (and if you detect a whiff of intentional appeal to Team Edward tweeners in this remake of a classic work of literature, you’re probably on target). Wasikowska has the “plain Jane” look down pat, and she easily exudes the kind of intelligence and naturalism that made her work in two of last years films – Alice in Wonderland and The Kids Are All Right – so exceptional. Fassbender, too, is a major talent, whom most will recognize from his work in Inglourious Basterds (but those who want to check out the full extent of his controlled brilliance should seek out his performances in Hunger and Fish Tank). Despite individually excellent turns, there is little spark, hunger, or lust that ignites between the two separated-by-circumstance lovers. Buffini’s screenplay also makes little of the class differences that separate the pair, although to its credit, the screenplay includes many episodes from Jane Eyre’s childhood, distinguishing it from most other renditions that begin with her employment at Mr. Rochester’s Thornfield Hall. As the mansion’s housekeeper, Mrs. Fairfax, Dench is a thorough delight as she upholds the difficult line between discretion and compassion. Although Jane Eyre wants for the depth of passion and heat we might expect from this Gothic couple who feel united in their souls, this film can boast a wealth of attention given to other visual and narrative details. Perhaps every decade gets the Jane Eyre it deserves: Is the emphasis of conscience over passion emblematic of our times?