By Chris Moore, Editor-in-Chief. Published April 25, 2011
A pallid young woman in somber clothing runs across the drenched English countryside, finally collapsing at the doorstep of a family who takes her in. An unloved little girl at a draconian boarding school awakens to find her best friend has died in her arms. A serious governess falls in love with a moody man with a dark past and even darker secret. Sounds like something out of a Gothic novel, doesn’t it? If you thought so, that’s no surprise, because they’re all events of Jane Eyre, the latest novel by a Brontë sister to be adapted to the silver screen.
For those of you unfamiliar with the book, the tale starts with young Jane, an orphan under the care of her cruel aunt and vicious little cousins. Her life is fairly miserable and even more so when she’s sent to Lowood, a grim boarding school where the girls are neglected. Several years later, a now-grown Jane leaves school and becomes the governess of a young French girl named Adele, who lives in the grand Thornfield Hall. The owner of the home is Mr. Rochester, a man who would make Lord Byron proud, and he and Jane strike up an unlikely romance. The rest of the tale of full of secrets and scandal, but to tell anymore is to spoil it for those few who haven’t been spoiled already.
The new Jane Eyre film is directed by Cary Fukunaga, winner of the U.S. Dramatic Directing Award and Cinematography Award at 2009’s Sundance Film Festival. It stars Mia Wasikowska of Alice in Wonderland and The Kids Are All Right fame as the eponymous heroine, and Michael Fassbender, who was recently in Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds, as the ever-mysterious Mr. Rochester. The movie is only playing in select theaters, so if you want to see it, check out the Tivoli Theater in Delmar or the Plaza Frontenac Cinema, because they’re the only theaters playing it for miles.
So is it worth traveling all the way out to St. Louis to see? In my opinion, yes, doubly so if you’re a fan of the original book. Wasikowska’s performance as Jane is subtle and restrained, making the rare outbursts of strong emotion all the more powerful. Fassbender as well delivers a strong, memorable performance as the enigmatic Rochester, and both lead actors are greatly complemented by a historically accurate wardrobe, the emphasis on both the loveliness and bleakness of the English moors, and a script that stays true to the original novel.
Of course, while this version of Jane Eyre is a solid movie, it isn’t without its flaws. If you aren’t a fan of period dramas, this movie probably won’t appeal to you. While the structuring of the movie as a series of flashbacks is an interesting concept, it is done in such a way that it takes a long while before any action happens, so the beginning drags on a little. Whole subplots and characters are cut from the movie. This is likely for the best in some cases, since modern audiences might, for example, see the true identity of St. John and his sisters as a deus ex machina. However, other removals take away valuable explanations for the characters’ actions and decrease the since of mystery that is at the core of the movie, such as the absence of Grace Poole and the final fate of Jane and Mr. Rochester. Because of this, the ending of the movie is choppy and leaves some questions unanswered.
Still, this version of Jane Eyre is remarkably well done and it’s one of the best movies of the book to date. It’s not a version that’s shy about showing the misery and dysfunction of the characters, nor is it a version that denies them their rare moments of happiness. It might be hard to find in theaters, but if you’re a Brontë-loving fan of the darker side of romance, check out Fukunaga’s Jane Eyre the next time you find yourself in St. Louis and in want of something to watch. It’s bleak, hopeful, and wonderful all in one.