Jane Eyre (2011): Another Movie Adaptation

The perils of making a movie of a well-known literary classic that already has over 20 adaptations are: If you are faithful to your source, there bound to be scenes that look like you have just taken out from previous versions; if you are not, you risk accusations from the purists. On top of that, you will have to condense a relatively long story into two hours of screen time. So, why would anyone want to do such an arduous task? Hopefully there is an answer waiting when we come to the end of this post.

What would you do differently to appeal to 21st century viewers? A splash of defiance and independence from Jane could work. But still, even the smart and cerebral lines uttered by her we have all heard before, for they are written by Brontë. So what merits can a new adaptation claim?

Another way to retell an old tale to today’s audience is offering a fresh perspective. Here, director Cary Fukunaga (Sin Nombre, 2009) has effectively crafted a non-linear structure of storytelling. Even for those who have not refreshed their classics memory lately, the movie’s smooth time changes should not pose a problem, for they are quite well done. It begins with Jane running away from Thornfield, desolate on the moors, but fortunate enough to be rescued and cared for by the pious but stern St. John Rivers (Jamie Bell of Billy Elliot fame, 2000) and his sisters. Upon questioning, Jane’s abused childhood and her time at Thornfield are revealed through flashbacks. It picks up from the opening scene again about three-quarters of the way, and pushes towards the anticipated ending.

Mia Wasikowska (Alice In Wonderland, 2010) faces a huge challenge to portray a Jane that’s convincing, and has to be compared to so many who had attempted in the past. Now Mia is the young Australian actor who has turned down the coveted role of Lisbeth Salander in “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” trilogy’s English version, and opted for the role of Jane Eyre. In an interview, she reveals that it all started when she was reading Charlotte Bronte’s 1847 novel about two years ago. By Chapter 5, she talked to her agent on the phone and asked whether by any chance there was an adaptation in the works. She knew she had to be Jane. Not long after that she received the screenplay by Moira Buffini. Thus began this newest cinematic rendition of Jane Eyre.

As a 19 year-old at the time of production, Mia was the right age for the role. That’s when Jane leaves Lowood School and heads out into the world to seek her own destiny. Brontë offers us a heroine who has a firm grip of self-respect and moral direction despite an abused upbringing. This is the Jane that has captured the hearts of so many throughout the years and who still appeals to us modern readers.

So our protagonist meets her fate as she lands a job at Thornfield as a governess to Adele, the ward of the enigmatic Edward Rochester, played by Michael Fassbender (Fish Tank, 2009). Fassbender just may have replaced Ciarán Hinds as my favorite Rochester. At 34, he might not be old enough to be faithful to the novel, but his performance is captivating and convincing. The two make a visually compatible pair. However, I have one major issue: the romance seems too restrained that it almost fails to ignite, especially on the part of Jane. With a movie like this, of course we go not so much for the Gothic, but for the passion. I wanted eagerly to be enthralled. But what I saw was a passionate Rochester wooing a repressed Jane. It’s ironic that almost throughout the film I remained emotionally disengaged, albeit thoroughly enjoying the performance of both characters.

Ultimately it comes, the scene that captures my heart. After the disclosure of the dark secret and the wedding called off, Jane desperately tries to fight off her deep yearning and love for Rochester by refusing his advance and embrace. She literally has to run away from Thornfield to uphold her moral choice and escape from her heart. And finally, for those who long for a cathartic reunion of the lovers, the ending again teases us by offering a closure that’s a bit too short and swift.

Still another and probably most effective way to appeal to modern viewers is the visuals. Kudos to both the director Fukunaga and cinematographer Adriano Goldman. They have answered the frequently asked question of “Why make another movie adaptation of a literary work?” We love to roam in our own privately constructed imaginary world when we read. A movie is the visualization of that world. It is an artistic display of a filmmaker’s interpretation and private imagination. It may not match our own, but surely can still be an enjoyment if it is presented with cinematic beauty.

We see Jane running away from Thornfield, our destitute heroine determined to make the moral choice despite the yearning of her heart. The fragile figure pitted against the harsh and barren moors, or the overhead shot of Jane standing at the crossroads … all effective visuals to present the literary, and by so doing, augment our appreciation of it. Here, you can see your own imagination realized, or see what others have conjured up in their minds. The few scenes where we have the shaky camera must be mentioned also. Generally I’m not a fan of hand-held camera work, but here in the film, such jerky moments are effective in depicting Jane’s troubled soul and inner turmoil. The camera lens following her has become the portal into her agitated and unsettling state of mind. Just another way the literary can be effectively translated into the visual.

Yet another movie adaptation of Jane Eyre? Why not… and I’m sure, there are more to come. I appreciate a filmmaker’s attempt to display the visual artistry that can be extracted from the literary. Words and visuals, they can go hand in hand in this image-driven age. And hopefully through popular screening and the viral medium, we can give recognition to the source materials that have entranced us for so long, giving credits to both the author and the writing.

~ ~ ~ Ripples

Published by

Arti

If she’s not birding by the Pond, Arti’s likely watching a movie, reading, or writing a review. Bylines in Asian American Press, Vague Visages, Curator Magazine.

17 thoughts on “Jane Eyre (2011): Another Movie Adaptation”

  1. I’ll save reading this Arti until the film opens here. Have seen the reviews and it certainly intrigues me. It’s a rather long and complex book to do isn’t it?

    .
    whisperinggums,

    Of course, that’s what I did too. You’re welcome to come back and share with us your afterthoughts.

    A.

    Like

  2. I have to admit that Jane Eyre is one of the biggest gaps in my classics reading. I don’t know why I am not enticed by the thought of it. But I think that there is no reason why books shouldn’t be adapted multiple times. In fact, it must encourage directors to dig deep in the material and experiment with cinematography to find that elusive new perspective. And if you have great material to begin with, well, the chances of success must surely be marginally increased.

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    litlove,

    You’ve brought out an interesting point… adaptations should improve over time if filmmakers “dig deep in the material and experiment with cinematography to find that elusive new perspective.”

    Due to time limit, to cultivate depth, breadth would have to be compromised. Every adaptation is bound to be a great challenge and that’s why I’ve appreciated every attempt, for each of them speaks to the value of the source material. It’s interesting too to follow how these adaptations evolve over time, the first one being a silent film produced in 1914.

    On another note, just wonder if you’ve read Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca? It’s your 20th C. variation of Jane Eyre.

    Arti

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  3. Now I want to watch the movie, and compare your impressions with mine 🙂

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    Damyanti,

    Curious to know what your view is… a writer’s take on a condensed literary film adaptation.

    A.

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  4. Once again, Arti, you have written a gorgeous review. I was ignited by desire to see this film when Inge and I saw the preview for it before watching “The King’s Speech.” I read recently, though briefly while scanning a review, that someone said “Jane Eyre” the book is opera, but this film is not. However, that will not stop me seeing it, and now that I’ve read your review, my determination is confirmed.

    There is so much to love about this story. Her plainness, and low station in life, compared to the bright exuberance of his, is such a perfect and delicious sampling of what I want most in romance: the heart-mind connection. (But yes, some bodice-ripping too. 🙂 The fantasy that a man, even a powerful one, would fall in love with an ordinary-looking woman, because of her spirit, heart and mind, is just so compelling. That he is blinded at the end really drives home this beautiful conceit. I think the visual of her plainness is one reason I love film versions of this book. Of course there are more themes in this story, but this is all I have time for at the moment.

    I also love Ciarán Hinds, so I look forward to this actor’s Mr. Rochester.

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    Ruth,

    I must admit, Ciarán Hinds and Samantha Morton are the more passionate Rochester and Jane than we have here in this adaptation. The ending too, is quite abrupt, leaving us wanting for a more cathartic resolution. However, the styling is fresh and camera work contemporary. Just speaks to the fact that there is no perfect adaptation… only relatively more successful ones. But one important thing it can achieve, hopefully, is to arouse interest in this literary classic.

    You know I’m more an Austen than a Brontë fan. So Jane Eyre might well be the only Brontë film I’d see. For some reason, Michael Fassbender reminds me a little of Colin Firth. While it’s hard to decide on my favorite Rochester, Colin Firth remains my all time Mr. Darcy. A heads up, Mia Wasikowska will be working with Colin Firth in an upcoming film, Stocker… that will be quite a change of style for CF.

    Arti

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  5. Jane Eyre was my first “grownup” book, and I loved it. I remember everything about it – the beautiful cover, the leather binding, the fact that there were no illustrations! The very fact that I read and re-read it with no pictures to look at – not even one – set a new standard for me. Books that could hold my interest without pictures on the page moved to the top of my list.

    Perhaps that’s why I’ve never seen a film of the book. The pictures I’ve carried in my head all these years have sufficed. But as you say, words and images are wedded more closely now than perhaps ever before – and we certainly do have new ways to talk about the power of each.

    I may or may not see the film, but I do need to re-read the book. That alone may be enough to send me off to the film!

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    Linda,

    Yes, I know how you feel about protecting your own imagination. That’s the reason why some choose not to see film adaptations of literary works. However, as I’ve mentioned here, a subject which I’d like to expand more maybe in a future post, is the fact that a movie is not merely an ‘illustrated book’ as the Welsh filmmaker Peter Greenaway claimed. I’d also discussed my disagreement with his criticism of adaptations in a post entitled “Too Much Jane?” You might be interested to look at that.

    You see, Charlotte Brontë would be gratified to see movies are still being made based on her book over 160 years later. What more, Jane Eyre is probably the classic novel with the most film adaptations… and more will come, I’m sure.

    Arti

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    1. Re: your point that a movie is not simply an “illustrated book” – precisely.
      That’s what I’m coming to learn – each medium has its own particular virtues and needs to be judged by its own criteria.

      It’s a very rough analogy, but I was thinking I wouldn’t use the same criteria to judge a bluegrass group playing on a front porch as I would for the Houston Symphony performing Beethoven’s 5th. While some might say “music is music”, there are real differences among musical forms and periods – I suspect music critics take account of them.

      You are having your influence, though~! I picked up a DVD at the grocery a few days ago. I’d seen it reviewed elsewhere – Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson in Last Chance Harvey. Have you seen it? I looked through your reviews and didn’t find it. It seems as though it might contain echos of Jane and Mr. Rochester – we shall see!

      .
      Linda,

      Yes, you’re totally right about the different art forms. Of course, a movie adaptation of a literary classic could risk looking like a Readers Digest Condensed book in terms of the storytelling. So the cinematic elements are all the more essential to make it stand alone in its own right.

      Last Chance Harvey? I’ve got it here too… you could just type in the title or any words in the Search box on top of my sidebar. But here it is, my review of this movie: https://rippleeffects.wordpress.com/2009/01/19/last-chance-harvey-2008/
      It’s not your Houston Symphony, but, I’m sure you’ll enjoy a little bluegrass on the front porch with this. 😉

      Arti

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  6. I am not nearly so well versed in film as you are, Arti, so I really enjoy your reviews of them. You point out things I’d not have noticed; I find I cannot comment coherently on film, but I do agree with what you say whole-heartedly. (The King’s Speech comes to mind.) I have been so anxious to see Jane Eyre, from the trailer I saw when I went to The King’s Speech. Judi Dench is always a thrill for me, as well as the darkened, eerie landscapes. The music and setting just seemed to create a very mysterious atmosphere, with reason for those of us who have read the book! Hopefully, my husband and I will see it this weekend.

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    Bellezza,

    Thank you for your kind words. As a literature lover, you’re bound to spot the many events and details being left out as you see the movie. But that’s how it goes, all those 500 some pages into a 2 hr. experience of sights and sounds, something a book cannot give. In such a condensed form, I’m afraid Judi Dench isn’t given too many chances to impress us as Mrs. Fairfax, same with Sally Hawkins as Mrs. Reed. Nevertheless, I think it’s worthwhile to see this newest attempt to honor a literary classic. Hope you’ll enjoy it!

    Arti

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  7. I am so glad to know it is a good film and not a disaster as these things seem to so often be. Thanks for such helpful review. I won’t be afraid to see the movie now 🙂

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    Stefanie,

    I appreciate this new attempt… let’s say, homage to Bronte’s classic novel. As a matter of fact, the few Jane Eyre adaptations I recall are all quite good, from Orson Welles and Joan Fontaine’s 1943 version (film noir/Gothic fuse) to the later 2006 Emmy winning and Golden Globe/BAFTA nom Masterpiece Theatre’s adaptation. I’ve also enjoyed Samantha Morton and Ciarán Hinds’ A & E performance.

    Arti

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  8. This sounds quite good, if not perfect. I knew very little about this version, so I was glad to learn more. Thanks!

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    Dorothy,

    No, not perfect, but good enough to entertain and stimulate our desire to read/reread the novel.

    Arti

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  9. I am so hoping this will come to my city. I’m inclined to think even a poor interpretation of Jane Eyre would be better than most of the movies that come out these days! This is such a thoughtful, thorough review, it makes me want to see it all the more. My favorite might have been the “Masterpiece” version a couple of years ago — with several episodes, there was enough time to work through the story.

    I was struck by the idea that the film is not an illustrated book. We were discussing that last night while watching a film version of a book both Rick and I loved — a true story where it appeared fast and loose with the facts. Story is everything. The bones are there. Now to find it…!

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    jeanie,

    “… even a poor interpretation of Jane Eyre would be better than most of the movies that come out these days!” I know what you mean. Sure hope you can get this one soon, if not, on video then. Only one theatre screens this film in our city. So, I’m afraid it’s being treated as an ‘art film’. But by casting Mia W. and M. F., as well as Judi D. and Sally H., I think they can go further than just the select few. Anyway, what you’ve said in your last paragraph has set the stage for my next post. I look forward to your opinion. 😉

    Arti

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  10. Timothy Dalton was my first Rochester and remains my favourite to date. While a little too theatrical at times, his Rochester – arrogant and brooding, undercut with a dark volatility – has always seemed spot on for me, and for my money best encapsulates the Rochester that I read in Jane Eyre.

    While I’ve watched the numerous proceeding adaptations, none of them quite grab me as much as this 1983 adaptation did. Or perhaps it is just the nostalgia associated with first discovering Jane Eyre that brings me back to this version! 🙂

    Like

    1. antipodeanowl,

      Welcome! Now we have one more link other than Twitter.

      As for Jane Eyre movie adaptations, I’m not as keen about them as Austen’s works, esp. P & P. So I’m not really mesmerized by any one particular, but I quite like the portrayals by Ciaran Hinds and Samantha Morton (TV, 1997). Yes, I’ve watched the Timothy Dalton version, as well as Orson Welles’. This recent adaptation adds a contemporary touch, which I think is quite well done, and hopefully draws some interests to the classic. As for Michael Fassbender, the newest member of the Rochester club, he is in the award-winning British film “Fish Tank” (2009). That is one fine film if you haven’t seen it yet.

      Again, thanks for stopping by Ripple Effects and leaving your comment. Hope to hear from you again!

      Arti

      Like

  11. What you said: “We love to roam in our own privately constructed imaginary world when we read. A movie is the visualization of that world. It is an artistic display of a filmmaker’s interpretation and private imagination. It may not match our own, but surely can still be an enjoyment if it is presented with cinematic beauty.” Exactly.

    I did use to get disappointed a lot with movie adaptations but have been more forgiving. I cannot wait to see this Jane Eyre. From the trailer, the cinematography is amazing. My girlfriends and I were planning on a movie date but then again I might have to wait until I get my own DVD. I’ll be watching it over and over for sure.

    Like

  12. Visually appealing and fine actors, but the story is too pared down to have the relationship between Jane & Mr. Rochester develop believably and to flesh out their characters’ pasts, which are so critical to care about them. Too bad.

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    comfieone,

    Thanks for stopping by and sharing your view.

    I agree with you. The challenge of movie adaptations… always a condensed version of the book.

    Arti

    Like

  13. I finally saw the film tonight … I think you’ve written an excellent review Arti that captures pretty much what I (in fact three of the four of us who saw it) felt. I particularly agree with your comment “It’s ironic that almost throughout the film I remained emotionally disengaged, albeit thoroughly enjoying the performance of both characters.” It’s a shame really because I thought the changed narrative order worked fine, the evocation of the period and the controlled handling of the gothic element were good, but I didn’t “feel” strongly enough. It was more brain than heart that was engaged, and that’s a bit of a shame.

    .
    whisperinggums,

    It sure takes a long time to get to Australia. Isn’t it funny that one enjoys the performance but still can stay aloof. Anyway, I think both actors have great potential and will certainly rise much higher in their career.

    Arti

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  14. I read Jane Eyre 17 times when I was in high school. It kept my sanity, and gave me hope while I was drowning from an abusive upbringing after being kidnapped from my mother when I was 7 years of age. Now, at a very mature age, and after having enjoyed every film adaptation of Jane Eyre, I realize that Bronte’s literary genius was depicting an abusive childhood, and in creating a Rochester character.

    Even though I felt every adaptation was successful in some aspect, I considered the Orson Wells version the best, as far as nailing down the characters; and the Toby Stephens miniseries the best, as far as creating a Jane of the modern day, leaving the audience filled with joyfulness, at the end of the movie. There is something to say about joy. In the book, joy was important to Jane, after coming in contact with it while relaying the wedding of Miss Temple to the readers.

    I am grateful for this article. Not having seen this adaptation, yet, I might have missed it, except for stumbling over this blog during an internet search, after hearing this Jane Eyre was oscar worthy. Being rushed at the end was the one very big fault with the Orson Wells version. I know that pain, so I appreciate being forewarned. I assume there will be more visitors to this article with the academy awards in the horizon.

    For the record, I consider adaptations of Jane Eyre equal to adaptations of Sherlock Holmes, always different and relishable.

    Like

    1. Prish,

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Yes, I believe both literature and film have the power to sustain and transform. And Jane Eyre is a triumphant story of overcoming odds. Good film versions of literature are hard to come by. I like the Orson Welles version too, the traditional and maybe a bit noir. This new adaptation may not appeal to purists due to its non-linear and modern take, but it offers a fresh perspective. Do check it out and see if you like it. Both actors are ‘in’ these days, especially Michael Fassbender. I’m afraid Jane Eyre will not be in the Oscar circuit this year because it’s a 2010 movie, but Fassbender might have a chance for his role in the film Shame.

      Like

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