I’ve heard that this rendition of Jane Eyre is reasonably faithful to its source material. Having never read Charlotte Brontë’s classic novel, I can’t say. But the exquisitely executed, highly involving, gothic love story that I just saw is one of the better movies I’ve seen this year.
Jane Eyre (Mia Wasikowska, Alice in Wonderland) was raised in an environment of horrible abuse and dehumanization, placed for ridicule on the “pedestal of infamy” and denied even the identity of gender pronouns, referred to as “it” directly to her face. Despite the world’s best efforts to rob her of identity and opinion, Jane keeps her unique quick wit and sharp tongue. When she lands the role of governess at the imposing and atmospheric Thornfield Hall, she begins a subtle duel of wills with the stern and brooding master of the house, Mr. Rochester (Michael Fassbender, The Inglorious Basterds). Their chilly regard leads to respect, flirtation, and then true affection. Just as it appears Jane will get all that she’s ever wanted, disaster strikes, and Jane must do as she’s always done: hold her head up and survive.
The Jane and Rochester relationship is the headline news here. Wasikowska and Fassbender play really well off each other and watching the romance steadily escalate is a real pleasure. When Jane can finally lower her defenses and smile at him with genuine affection, we gratefully smile with her. The dialogue between the two of them at their most passionate is practically poetry and it’s twice as effective when combined with the performances of these actors. The supporting cast is also excellent with Dame Judi Dench as one of the first genuinely kind people Jane encounters and Jamie Bell (Billy Elliot), who is a strange choice for the simultaneously hot and cold part of St. John Rivers since he’s so inherently likeable, but he does well with it.
I’m usually not a fan of period pieces, but the filmmakers here craft such an impeccably immersive world of candlelight, stone, custom, and class that it’s impossible not to get sucked in. It’s no surprise that the director, Cary Fukunaga, has worked extensively as a cinematographer; the use of light and shadow is simply gorgeous and the color palette is tonally perfect for Brontë’s notoriously haunted atmosphere. Brighter colors slowly infect the frame paralleling the evolution of Jane and Rochester’s relationship. Even depth of field is used to maximum effect, a focus pull to the back on Wasikowska’s neck imbues the audience with Jane’s sense of isolation in a crowded room. What we have here is masterful filmmaking in striking locations. There are a few times when the handheld gets too shaky, but that’s an easy line to cross so we’ll let it go.
Some of the twists and turns of the plot feel abrupt to the point of pre-destination, but none of it is jarring enough to remove you from the story for too long, and I understand that each epic lurch of this particular narrative has been beloved for generations already.
My personal opinion: The 2011 film version of Jane Eyre is a completely captivating love story served in rich hues of black and gray with tense gothic overtones. I loved it. I’d see it again.—Jake Jarvi