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Mia Wasikowska in JANE EYRE (Photo: Laurie Sparham/Focus Features)

Directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga
Produced by
Alison Owen & Paul Trijbits
Written by Moira Buffini, based on the novel by Charlotte Brontë
Released by
Focus Features
UK. 121 min. Rated PG-13
Mia Wasikowska, Michael Fassbender, Jamie Bell, Sally Hawkins, Judi Dench, Settbon Moore, Imogen Poots & Amelia Clarkson

Every generation rediscovers Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre since the novel’s publication in 1847, or through over 25 TV and movie versions, so audiences may have their own impressions of their definitive standard for comparison. As the prototypical tale of a pale gothic heroine caught up in an unconsummated passion, the new Jane Eyre well appeals to the Twilight generation.

For guys who are hoping they can see this version instead of reading the book for class, Moira Buffini’s script cinematically shifts the story structure, thrusting us immediately into the middle of the story during Jane’s desperate dash over the heath during a dark and stormy night, where she is overcome by emotions as much as by the elements. Mia Wasikowska expressively inhabits the title character without resorting to first-person narration (and she even convinces us she’s the plain Jane she insists she is). Her fevered nightmares become flashbacks into her tortured life, first as a deprived but feisty young orphan (Amelia Clarkson) raised by her cold Aunt Reed (an uncharacteristically not sweet Sally Hawkins), and then the deprived but stubborn student at a punitive boarding school, where her only friend dies of typhus in her arms.

When she comes to, Jane wakes up in Moor House, the home of a stodgy young clergyman St. John (pronounced “Sinjin”) Rivers (Jamie Bell) and his two solicitous sisters. But she swoons back in time to her arrival at the far grander Thornfield Hall, where the kindly housekeeper, Mrs. Fairfax (Judi Dench), explains that Jane will work as the governess for Adèle (Settbon Moore), the sprightly daughter of a deceased French opera singer. (Women guests’ snotty comments about their governesses are taken straight from the book, as is most of the dialogue.) Jane’s life is upended when she accidentally upends her employer’s steed, giving Mr. Edward Rochester (Michael Fassbender) a dramatic entrance en route home.

Unusual for most Jane Eyre adaptations, the actors are almost actually the characters’ 20-year age span. But as appropriately and broodingly sensual as Fassbender is, he seems creepily close to his seductive predator in Andrea Arnold’s Fish Tank (2009). Some plot detail about Rochester testing the motives of his would-be fiancée Blanche Ingram (Imogen Poots) remain unexplained—so no, you don’t get to see Fassbender dressed up as a fortunetelling gypsy. As a result, his tormented deceptions seem less about a passionate lover and more like a male succubus drawing on Jane’s youth to compensate for his 15 years tied to a tragic (and secretive) ball and chain.

Even more than Jane’s tears and cri de coeur for equality, the characters’ passion comes through the film’s look and sound. It seems surprising that two guys experienced in gritty Latin American urban action, director Cary Joji Fukunaga (2009’s Sin Nombre) and cinematographer Adriano Goldman (2008’s City Of Men), would be suited for a classic costumed romance, but their visceral approach is emotionally stunning. The 35mm cameras swoop outside on the misty moors, craggy woods, and formal gardens of Derbyshire, and creep inside around the shadows of dark hallways and smoke-filled candlelit rooms. (With the gorgeous landscape here and in Michael Winterbottom’s upcoming The Trip, the far north of England is sure to benefit from tourist interest.) Further, Dario Marianelli’s lovely, crystalline score is more integrated into the story than his intrusively swelling music for Joe Wright’s Pride & Prejudice (2005) and Atonement (2007), with solo piano, violin, and wordless vocals exquisitely expressing the repressed characters’ feelings.

Anchored by Wasikowska’s intense performance, the dreams and flashbacks carefully ground Jane Eyre’s transformation into a Jane Heir, minimizing the deus ex machina theatrics and maximizing her unbending quest for freedom. Her determination to choose who to love makes her feel very contemporary. Nora Lee Mandel
March 11, 2011



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