“Do you think that because I am poor, obscure, plain and little that I am soulless and heartless?”
There has been adaptations, re-workings, re-tellings, sequels, silent films, plays, there has even been a musical ballet and yet the hold Jane Eyre has on the imagination has not been lost. It is easy to now overlook the impact the novel made when it was released all those years ago but looking back, it revolutionised feminist writing. To us now, it seems like more of a dramatic love story but to the 19th century reader, Jane was far from commonplace. A lowly governess with a mind of her own who would eventually marry the master of the house she worked in would have been entirely unheard of. And yet, Charlotte Bronte crafted the implausible tale, partially from her own experiences, of possibly one of the greatest females who never existed.
Director Fukunaga and scriptwriter Buffini introduce us to Jane escaping; we witness her clambering across the moors, stopping only to desperately weep at certain points. Exhausted and drenched through, Jane is taken in by St. John Rivers and his sisters following her discovery on the back doorstep of their house. Her story is told in flashback, beginning with her adoption by an aunt who detested her and subsequently abandoned her to Lowood school for an education. Jane is mistreated, picked on and marginalized by teacher and pupils alike, her only friend a sickly girl named Helen. When her education is completed, she is sent to Thornfield Hall to become the governess to Adele, the French ward of Mr. Rochester. Jane finds the Master of the house to be sullen, almost frightening but Rochester finds a peace with her that he has not experienced before. Their relationship develops and he begs for her hand in marriage but on their wedding day, Jane discovers a terrible secret.
To describe Jane Eyre in such a short paragraph does both film and book a serious injustice, this adaptation involves you from the very second the first scene begins already providing questions that even those familiar with the book would find difficult to answer. Never has the moors of England that have always been so closely associated with the writings of the Bronte sisters, looked more beautiful, grey and haunting. What is far more than just commendable is how they have treated the character of Jane, some of the adaptations have become merely the story of Jane and Rochester, here, this is Jane’s tale and Mia Wasikowska proves more than able for the task. Restrained, barely showing emotion on her face from one scene to the next, her gaze pierces through and makes both Rochester and viewer believe there is more than what meets the eye. Her brief displays of sentiment and passion are never overplayed and once they occur, an empathy with her character that arguably has not transpired in any other adaptation, manifests. Fassbender is, predictably, magnificent as Rochester. Originally, it could have been considered that he was not rough enough around the edges but his hold on Thornfield and on Jane is felt even in his off-screen presence. His failings are evident but he is painted realistically, his cruelty, temper and sensitivity becoming all the aspects that make him Rochester and not just any period drama romantic interest.
It had always been the intention of Fukunaga to play up on the gothic sentiments of the novel and those familiar with the book will not be disappointed by Bertha, some scenes almost spiral into horror. The only qualm is the length of the flashbacks, the initial introduction to Jane can seem a little long winded. This is possibly the only complaint. Although Jane is no stranger to us, this retelling is beautiful, excellently played out and at times, heart-rending.