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Saturday Special: Jane Eyre

Saturday, April 2, 2011

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.

The Cast
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.

23 Comments leave one →
  1. Saturday, April 2, 2011 10:07 am

    Hmm, sounds like they didn’t quite do it justice as far as the story aspect. I love Jane Eyre although my favorite of the sisters’ books is Wuthering Heights. Love love love that book! I’m sure I’ll see this when it comes out on DVD anyway because I love watching these movies, even if they are not true to the story development. I love the costumes too! Thanks for the review!

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    • Saturday, April 2, 2011 10:22 am

      Oh, it hit all the major plot points of the book—so it stayed quite true to it in that manner. It’s just that they didn’t have time to get into the little things, like the relationship development.

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  2. Kav permalink
    Saturday, April 2, 2011 1:25 pm

    Ohhhhhhh — I was hoping you would post your impressions!!!! I kind of got sucked into the vortex of life this week and hardly read a blog at all!!!! But I did see that you were on your way out to see the movie last night. I’ve just started seeing advertisements for it on TV so I was wondering what a movie connoisseur like yourself would think of it.

    Love that you latched onto the technical side of the movie. LOL. That’s got to be the writer in you busy staging things. A shame they didn’t spend much time developing the relationship. I think my favourite version so far is the one with Timonty Dalton as Mr. Rochester. Ever seen that? Now there was a movie with romantic development! Very swoonworthy!

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    • Saturday, April 2, 2011 2:34 pm

      The only other version I’ve ever seen is the one with Toby Stephens as Rochester. I recall enjoying it enough to watch it all the way through, but not enough to watch it again since (and I watched it shortly after it came out on DVD). But, again, it’s not one of my favorite stories. I’ll take Bleak House over JE for a dark, moody romance any day! 😉

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  3. Saturday, April 2, 2011 1:49 pm

    Mia Wasikowska just hit the big screen two years ago when Tim Burton cast her as his Alice. The whole time I was watching that the first time I kept wondering how she’d do as Jane Eyre.

    So glad to hear the costumes get a good review from you. You’re almost as picky as me on that front. Still no sign of it down here.

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    • Saturday, April 2, 2011 2:38 pm

      And the reason I’ve never seen Mia in anything before is that I’m even less a fan of Alice in Wonderland than I am of Jane Eyre!

      They did a good job showing the difference in fashion from Jane’s childhood (see picture above of Sally Hawkins in the dress with the huge puffy sleeves and the 1830s hairstyle). They just set the main action of the story around 1845 instead of its release date, though for the domestics, housekeeper, and governesses, the straight long sleeves remained the proper style through . . . well, through whenever, because those were serviceable and they could actually get stuff done without having to worry about dragging the bell-shaped sleeves through anything.

      And they got the “Jane Eyre hair” down to a T. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a picture of an actress portraying Jane Eyre who didn’t have that exact same hairstyle!

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  4. Saturday, April 2, 2011 5:16 pm

    Oh the main actor Mia Wasikowska is an aussie. Not sure its a me type of movie as not into the regency’s as much but then we also dont have a cinema in my town. May see it on tv at some stage.
    Although I do like some of the ones the BBC have done of these stories.

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    • Saturday, April 2, 2011 5:18 pm

      It’s not Regency, it’s early Victorian, and it’s a Gothic romance, so it does have more of that air of mystery/suspense to it. Quite different from the film versions of the Jane Austen novels (which are Regency).

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      • Saturday, April 2, 2011 10:21 pm

        Oh ok see Im ignorant to english classics unless they are Charles Dickens.
        I dont think its out in australia yet haven’t seen any info on it here.

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        • Sunday, April 3, 2011 12:28 am

          The Regency was from 1811 to 1820 (when George IV was the prince regent due to the madness of King George III)—though literarily, the “Regency era” extended from about 1800 to 1837, which is when Victoria ascended to the throne, thus beginning the Victorian era. However, the 1820s and 1830s are quite different from the 1800s through 18teens as far as fashion, culture, and politics—because once Bonaparte was finally defeated in 1815, everything in England changed, due to the fact that, for the first time in about 50 years, England wasn’t at war with anyone.

          The Victorian Era is 1837 to 1901—the years of Victoria’s reign.

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        • Sunday, April 3, 2011 5:28 pm

          Oh Thanks Kaye I had not idea really. I did know about the Victorian era but I didn’t know dates etc.
          I thought regency was something like upper class England etc No idea where I got the idea guess I haven’t read alot of English fiction as the class system annoyed me and as a teen I wasn’t really into the classics.

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  5. Saturday, April 2, 2011 7:41 pm

    I’m so glad you decided to write a review now, instead of saving it for Friday. I knew if I didn’t get my thoughts up today I’d lose all momentum for a post with this stupid head cold. 😉

    I still can’t get over poor Harry Lloyd…he looked so awful in this movie. 😛

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  6. iDella permalink
    Saturday, April 2, 2011 8:41 pm

    “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)”…..no, it isn’t Kaye. I agree! As a matter of fact, I think the Rochester/Eyre dynamic is a literary case of sexual harassment of an employee. Yes, I KNOW its just a story.:-). To me, the romance of the story isn’t her suitors, it’s Jane’s spirit and struggle for a life of her own, and her unwillingness to compromise on love just because she’s plain.

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  7. Ron Edison permalink
    Saturday, April 2, 2011 8:46 pm

    Nicely done review, Kaye. JANE EYRE was the first book I had to read in senior English. About a third of the way through, I gave up and bought the Cliffs Notes (the only Cliffs Notes I ever bought) and barely squeaked by on the test. That didn’t stop the teacher from reading one of my essay responses to the class as an example of how NOT to respond to a question. I was traumatized and STILL had to find my way thru WUTHERING HEIGHTS later that year. To this day the name Bronte fills me with dread. We’ll probably see the movie anyway since my wife is quite curious about it and I like your analysis of the production quality, costumes, etc. Nothing ruins a period film like inattention to those details.

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    • Sunday, April 3, 2011 12:33 am

      Surprisingly, I never had to read JE in college—I read it voluntarily after a semester of an Enlightenment Era literature course in which I read Anne Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udolpho for my main research project for the class. I went through a little Gothic Romance phase, so I read Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey for the first time and then moved on to Jane Eyre, which I found entertaining enough that I didn’t feel like I was slogging through it. I tried to read Wuthering Heights after that, but I couldn’t even get a quarter of the way into it. And since I wasn’t being required to read it, I gladly put it away. I watched the new film version of WH on Masterpiece Classic a couple of years ago—and that’s what confirmed my suspicion that there was something seriously wrong with those sisters!

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  8. Saturday, April 2, 2011 8:54 pm

    Thanks for the grand review, Kaye. Your review was an honest and refreshing take on it. I loved hearing your thoughts, especially about the costumes. I can’t believe they didn’t include that about Bertha being misrepresented to him before marriage. That one fact made a huge difference to me in how I viewed Mr. Rochester.

    The first time I saw Jane Eyre I was in Jr. High School and thought I’d die from boredom. It was the 1970’s version with George C. Scott. I just watched the A & E version of Jane Eyre this past week, the first time since, and enjoyed it very much. Ciaran Hinds was remarkable as Edward Rochester. I am looking forward to seeing this new version, if it ever comes to Maine.

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    • Sunday, April 3, 2011 12:35 am

      I liked Rochester a lot more when it was revealed that he was basically duped into marrying Bertha, so I kept expecting to hear that explanation and was very disappointed when it didn’t come.

      Ruth said that the director’s cut of the film clocked in at somewhere near three and a half hours. It’ll be interesting to see if they release that version on DVD how far it will go toward filling in all of those places I felt lacking.

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  9. Saturday, April 2, 2011 9:20 pm

    Re: Bertha…Rochester did mention that he “barely spoke” to Bertha prior to the marriage in this film – I think that was their quick nod to the fact that he was tricked into the marriage.

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