Monday, June 20, 2011

SFF Review: Jane Eyre (Cary Fukunaga, 2011)

For the umpteenth film/television adaptation of Charlotte Bronte's classic 1847 novel, American filmmaker Cary Fukunaga (Sin Nobre), directing just his second feature, is the man at the helm. Jane Eyre stars Mia Wasikowska (The Kids Are All Right) as the title heroine and Michael Fassbender (Hunger) as Edward Rochester. Jamie Bell (Billy Elliot), Dame Judy Dench (Notes on a Scandal) and Sally Hawkins (Happy Go Lucky) co star. The film is a joint distribution between BBC Films and Focus Features and is released in Australian cinemas on August 11.

The story is largely presented through flashbacks, which proved confusing for some of my friends who had not read the book. Having only seen parts of the Jane Eyre television miniseries, I knew enough to understand where these early sequences came in the story's chronology. I thought it was quite a thoughtful way to present the story. Opening with Jane's leave from Thornfield Manor in the early morning, the hand-held camera tracks her across the barren countryside, across the fog-swept plains and eventually to the rain-soaked moors where she finds herself inconsolable and nearing death. She stumbles across the cottage of St. John Rivers (Bell) and his two sisters, where she is taken care of until her health returns.

The film flashes back to Jane's childhood, where she lives as an orphan with her abusive aunt (Hawkins) and her children. She is eventually enrolled at Lowood School for girls, with the reputation of misbehaviour and being deceitful, which also impacts on the way she is treated at school. Having completed school, Jane (Wasikowska) is sent to work as a governess at Thornfield Manor alongside housekeeper Mrs Fairfax (Dench), where she would work as tutor for the daughter of Edward Rochester (Fassbender), the master of the house. When she first meets Rochester she is both repelled by his abrupt arrogance and attracted to his swooning charm and intelligence. As Jane grows to desire him, and he in-turn develops feelings for her, they ignore their class differences and vow to marry. That is, until a sinister secret from Rochester's past forces her to flee.

From my understanding of the novel there are spooky gothic undertones that plague the entire story, especially when the story is set in Thornfield Manor. Fukunaga has tried to heighten these elements, in an attempt to differentiate his adaptation from previous ones that have stuck to the romance and not utilised the spookiness as prominently. I think Fukunaga establishes his intentions very well early on, but it never reaches the heights that were intended.

Many key parts are quickly brushed over, most recognisably Jane's introduction to Blanche Ingram. This was disappointing, because the Gothic presence was the most impressive subversion of the story. But, the use of the natural environment creates a sense of foreboding as Jane crosses the moors and shooting scenes at Thornfield solely through the illumination of candlelight, the creepy design of the mansion, the whispers and creaks in the night and the mysterious fire all provide effective chills.

Mia Wasikowska, whose performance in The Kids Are All Right was quite underrated amongst a renowned cast of veterans, is a star in the making. With her attractiveness augmented, her compelling work here is emotionally diverse and effectively shines through Jane's intelligence, independence and strong sense of conscience that makes her such a respected protagonist. Michael Fassbender, always excellent, is equally good as the charming Rochester. The chemistry between the two feels genuine. Judi Dench should just be cast in every old woman role; whether they are cranky and frightening, or kind and cheeky, she plays it to perfection.

Jane Eyre is elegant, fiery, creepy and romantic, and easily digestible for a period piece. While the dialogue, which came across as being transferred straight from the novel, takes some attention to grasp, the film has stunning production design, features some impressive photographic trickery and is lusciously costumed. Key events are skimmed over, which diminishes the impact of some scenes, and makes others redundant and downright improbable. It also doesn't quite reach the heights of its gothic intentions in the latter half. But, I found it quite enjoyable. For anyone disappointed by what was left out, or fearing a shallow adaptation, the 150 minute directors cut, which will likely feature on the DVD, should cover it all.

My Rating: 3 1/2 Stars (B-)


  1. I was less than impressed with this version of Jane Eyre after having looked so forward to it (I'm a sucker for a period drama, plus I love the book). While the film is admirable I too felt it was lacking in both the gothic nature of the book, as well as the chemistry between the two leads. As much as I liked them, together they didn't really gel.

    I'm not sure a second viewing will render it more rewarding (as it did with Tree of Life) but I hope to see it again before it releases and I write my review.

    Keep up the good work, Andy.

  2. I was quite surprised by how much I enjoyed it, but my friends had some issues with it. Especially attacking the direction and the shallow screenplay.

    I was disappointed the film didn't further address the gothic elements, but I thought the leads did a pretty good job. I probably won't watch it again, though I am waiting to review 'Tree of Life' following a second viewing.

    Thanks for reading! Really appreciate the support.

  3. It's so...quiet. It didn't hit me until the very end, and I just thought, that's the most muted fucking ending I've ever seen. Still liked it. But honestly, I've seen silent movies with more noise.

  4. Hmm. I didn't really notice, but I think you're right. The score was fairly generic and underwhelming, and it tried to heighten tension and suspense at the mansion by relying on silence and the odd creak or whisper. I personally liked the visuals but it did lack a certain audio flair.

  5. The performances are generally good, though I thought Mia Wasikowska was a little too understated as Jane. Jane in the novel has a lot more passion and wit, though perhaps readers have more access to that since the narrative is told by her.