Saturday Special: Jane Eyre
I figured I couldn’t wait until next Friday to share some of my thoughts about the new Jane Eyre adaptation—that I should do it while it’s fresh.
First off, let me start with this caveat: I’m not a huge fan of Jane Eyre (or anything by any of the Brontë sisters—I think they all had something seriously wrong with them, given how twisted their books/stories are, but that’s just me). However, I had a fabulous time on this girls’ night out with Ruth, Liz, Rachel, and Lori. (Yes, poor Lori is the only one without a blog/website.)
Second, since I’m so familiar with the story, and I assume most of my readers are, there might be (probably will be) spoilers in this “review”; so for anyone who doesn’t know the story but is thinking about going to see the movie, I would recommend it. It is highly enjoyable and very well done. And now you probably shouldn’t read the rest of this post.
Before chatter about this movie started on the blogosphere, I’d never heard of the two lead actors in this adaptation: Michael Fassbender and Mia Wasikowska.
And I have to say, they were very well cast, and I’m looking forward to seeing them in other projects. (Michael Fassbender is interesting looking—from some angles, he reminded me of Aidan Quinn—I think it’s the eyes—and from others, of Leslie Howard.)
There were several other recognizable names (and some not so recognizable faces!) in the supporting cast. The biggest name in this movie has to be Dame Judi Dench as Rochester’s housekeeper, Mrs. Fairfax. Her character brought some much-needed humor to the movie. Then there was Jamie Bell (Billy Elliot, Defiance, The Eagle, and Nicholas Nickleby) as St. John Rivers, Tamzin Merchant (Catherine Howard in The Tudors, Georgiana Darcy in Pride & Prejudice 2005) as Mary Rivers, Sally Hawkins (Anne Elliot in Persuasion 2008) as Jane’s aunt Mrs. Reed, Sandy McDade (Margaret Brown in Lark Rise to Candleford) as one of Jane’s school teachers, Imogen Poots (Fanny Knight from Miss Austen Regrets) as Jane’s potential rival Blanche Ingram, and Harry Lloyd, whom both Ruth and I kept thinking looked extremely familiar as Richard Mason, Rochester’s brother-in-law, but who looked so different from his stint as Will Scarlett on the BBC-TV version of Robin Hood a few years ago.
My Viewing Experience
Maybe it’s because I did already know the story before going into this movie, but I actually found myself paying a lot of attention to the technical aspects of the film—the lighting (very dim/dark, as it would have been in an age when everything was lit by candles, also reflective of the mood of the scenes), the camera work (we were all a little worried at the herky-jerky hand-held camerawork in the first scene—repeated later—when Jane is running away from Thornfield Hall, but it was only for that one scene), the settings (the interiors of the houses were breathtaking down to every last detail!), and the COSTUMES.
Oh, my goodness, the costumes were gorgeous. With this novel having been published in 1847, the costuming was almost from “my” era of 1851—though the influences for the costuming seemed to be a little more early 1840s, with long, straight sleeves on the fancy dresses instead of the more flowing, bell-shaped sleeves of the late 1840s/early 1850s with dropped shoulder seams which emphasized the sloped-shouldered posture that was considered fashionable in that era (which the twenty-first century actresses weren’t able to adopt) and bum-pad petticoats that made the hips stand out (as they did in the 18th century) instead of the more flared look of multiple stiff, starched petticoats and crinolines of the late 40s/early 50s—the look that gave rise to the invention of hoops so that they didn’t have to wear so many petticoats.
But even with the variations from what I expected the costuming to look like, many times in viewing, I found myself thinking, Look at those sleeves! Look at that gathering! Look at that lace! Look at that pin tucking!
The movie itself.
I’d read ahead of time that the movie begins with Jane running away from Thornfield. No reason is given for this flight. We just see a young woman, running from an old house in the gray weather. We see her standing at a crossroads waiting for the mail coach. We see her wandering across the moors, sobbing. We then see her pounding on the door of a home in the pouring rain, begging to be let in. And then we see the Riverses take her in and nurse her back to health.
Then, the actual story is told mostly in flashback, beginning with Jane as a child at her aunt’s home being tormented by her male cousin (this was a bit much for me) and then being locked in a room—in which scene they really started playing up the gothic elements of the book. Mixed in with the scenes of Jane’s childhood are her scenes with the Riverses—St. John, Mary, and Diana. Sometimes it seemed like she was telling them her story as she remembered these scenes, while other times it was obvious these were private reflections. The brutality—emotional, spiritual, and physical—at the school Jane attended is shown, along with the trauma of Jane’s losing her best friend to illness. And then she goes to Thornfield.
Once Jane arrives at Thornfield, we lose the flashbackiness of the movie, and it just stays put and moves forward with the story instead of jumping back and forth, which I appreciated as someone who likes a consistent, forward-moving chronology in stories (Lost being a major exception to this preference).
What this theatrical version of the film lost for me was the development of the relationship between Jane and Rochester. They spent so much time on the setup—on the initial scenes of Jane running away and on her childhood—that they didn’t really have time to show how the relationship between Jane and Rochester grew from almost adversarial to passionate. In the film, they were just all of a sudden passionately in love with each other—and it was most unbelievable on Jane’s side, because this version of Rochester had really given no reason for her unswerving loyalty to him.
Also, even though they played up the gothic elements in certain places, the one element they didn’t play up was Bertha. As I recall, Grace Poole, Bertha’s caregiver, is quite visible in the book, and Jane even interacts with her—and it’s Grace Poole who gets blamed for everything weird that happens in the house. (Including when a “savage looking” woman sneaks into Jane’s room the night before the wedding and rips her veil in two—which didn’t happen in the movie at all.) They also dropped the explanation of Rochester’s marriage to Bertha that Bertha’s family tricked him into marrying her by making sure he only saw her when she was behaving normally and not showing her schizophrenic tendencies. If they truly wanted to highlight the gothic elements of the novel, they missed the boat here.
I’m going to have to pull the book off the shelf and revisit the ending of the novel—because I don’t remember it ending as abruptly as the movie did—kiss, hug, the end.
So, there you have it. My reaction to seeing Jane Eyre. Again, it’s never been one of my favorites, so I apologize for not gushing about it. (If you would like to read a review of the movie from someone who’s a true fan of the book, check out Ruth’s review.) But it was enjoyable—and I’ve never been to a movie in a theater that packed that stayed so quiet and attentive! All in all, definitely worth seeing if it comes to a theater near you.