Movie Review: Jane Eyre (2011)

Posted: September 5, 2013 in Drama, Romance
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jane-eyre-2011

Jane Eyre (Amelia Clarkson, Mia Wasikowska) is orphaned at an early age and forced to live with her aunt Mrs. Reed (Sally Hawkins) and her bratty son John.  (Craig Roberts)  When trouble erupts between Jane and John,  Mrs. Reed naturally blames Jane, and ships her off to a boarding school named Lowood, where she is branded a liar.  Despite her undeserved bad reputation, Jane befriends Helen Burns.  (Freya Parks) Helen develops an illness, but Jane stays loyally at her bedside until Helen dies.  But the bond they shared made Jane believe in herself, and so she stays on at Lowood, and becomes a teacher there.

After some time as a teacher, she applies for a job as a governess for Mr. Rochester’s ward Adelle (Romy Setborn Ward) who is fluent in French, and enjoys conversing in both French and English with Jane.  Jane meets Rochester (Michael Fassbender)  rather accidently, when she scares his horse and make him fall.  Later the two converse, Jane believes that Rochester thinks of her as nothing more than a paid subordinate but Rochester realizes that he has met his equal in intelligence and temperament, if not breeding.  Jane too, strives to be Rochester’s equal, parrying Rochester’s every verbal thrust with vigor.  Despite getting along quite well with Rochester, Jane has reservations, she thinks that Blanche Ingram (Imogen Poots) will eventually marry Rochester, and Jane will have to go elsewhere.  Jane is also troubled by the noises she hears in the night while everyone is sleeping, noises that are never explained by Rochester or anyone else in the house.  Despite her misgivings, Rochester professes his love for her.  As they are about to get married, Jane learns something about Rochester that makes her run away from Thornfield, wishing for death.

Jane instead lands at the doorstep of Christian missionary, St. John Rivers (Jamie Bell) and his sisters Mary (Tamzin Merchant) and Diana. (Holliday Granger) Mary and Diana nurse Jane back to health and St John finds her a job teaching children.  Jane then finds out from St John that her uncle has died, leaving Jane a vast fortune as an inheritance.  St John has a proposal for Jane, he wants to take her to India, as his wife.  What does Jane do?  Marry St. John, who she doesn’t love? Or go back to her one true love, Rochester, who had a secret so dark, it made Jane run away in heartbreak.

I like this movie but it has its drawbacks.  The story starts with Jane at St. John’s doorstep, and then flashes back to Jane’s childhood, Lowood,Thornfield Hall, and eventually forward with St. John and his sisters.  It would have been much easier and better to tell a linear story, people who don’t know the story as well as I do might be confused. The movie format in itself is limited, as opposed to the miniseries format of the BBC tv series, and so the story feels rushed and entire portions of the book are skipped for time constrains. The move attempts to make Jane seem more liberated than she ought to be, making her seem like a suffragette, or Gloria Steinem. The movie seems to forget it’s based on a book written in 1847.  What saves this movie is the banter between Jane and Rochester, and again between Jane and St. John, it is both pithy, and entertaining.  Credit goes to the acting skills of the superb Michael Fassbender and equally superb Mia Wasikowska for bringing these characters to life and making them feisty. The only quibble I have about these two is that they’re both too attractive.  When Rochester says, Do you think me handsome, and Jane says no, it comes off more as a joke than a challenge to answer honestly to an employer of a higher station.  Sally Hawkins is also very good as the evil Mrs. Reed, if there’s a heavy in this movie she’s it, and Hawkins seems to revel in the evil. The direction is workmanlike, although there are some beautiful shots of the English countryside.  There is one gimmicky incident in a scene that I did not care for, but again that’s a quibble.

If you enjoy the story of Jane Eyre, read the book or watch the 2006 miniseries, if you like the sparks between Jane and Rochester, watch this version. Any way you chose, there are things to like about the movie or the miniseries, but to get a full understanding of the characters and their motivations, you should read the book.  I will say it again, Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre is the most well-developed female character I’ve read, written by a male or female author.

Jane Eyre.  No plain Jane.

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