(Feel I should point out this contains spoilers but doesn’t everyone know the story of Jane Eyre even if they haven’t read the book? Maybe not. SPOILERS!)
For a reason that remains unknown to me, Edward Rochester is the most popular romantic literary character ever. Rochester is not the kind of man you fall in love with. He is creepy, possessive and, generally, just a bit of a dick. Oh, but all he needs is a hug, a cup of tea and your love, right ladies? So he’s a tortured soul, who made a mistake in his youth but that really doesn’t justify psychologically torturing the young Jane. Although, maybe it is every girl’s dream to meet a man who loves her so much he is willing to convince her he is marrying another woman and break her heart before revealing that it was all a plot to make her jealous? What? In the words of renowned fashion designer Jacobim Mugatu, “I FEEL LIKE I’M TAKING CRAZY PILLS!” Rochester is a man who is bitter about ruining his life by marrying a woman he not only didn’t love but who turned out to be mad. This does not give him to right to play games with an innocent, young woman, fresh out of school, who is stupid enough to fall in love with him. I don’t get it and I never will.
This mindless rant isn’t quite as off topic as it may seem at first. My main issue with the film is the characterisation and casting of Rochester. No sane woman would fall Mr Rochester at first sight (I still maintain that after that it would be difficult but I have to get on with this). On the other hand, very few women would be able to stop themselves falling for Michael Fassbender at first sight. Fassbender cuts an attractive but brooding figure against the backdrop of the wild moors (much more akin to Heathcliff than Rochester). Within this setting, a truly complex man and this turbulent relationship is transformed into a stock character from a romantic comedy. This is not Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre this is When Harry Met Sally in breeches.
The awful and cruel Rochester of the book, who enjoys playing games with Jane’s emotions, has been replaced with a slightly offhand and bored man. For the most part, Jane is treated like his pet, used for his entertainment until, all of a sudden, he is wildly and obsessively in love with her. It is an even more nonsensical relationship than the one within the book (even taking into account that the moment where he disguises himself as a gypsy has been taken out). The intense feeling that is represented within the book never quite translates onto the screen.
The novel has remained a favourite literary work because its heroine represented a great improvement in the representation of gender politics and feminine power. Jane as a character is plain but, most importantly, she is passionate, intelligent and strong. Mia Wasikowska doesn’t stand up to the brutish Rochester and instead comes off as dull, rather pathetic and stiff. She sits opposite Fassbender’s Rochester and barely makes an impression. It is no wonder that the romance never really takes off within the film when the two lovers are as worn-out and dull as this pair.
I’m in desperate need of something positive to say about Cary Joji Fukunaga’s adaptation or this will turn into a review that beats Rochester in the broody and annoyed stakes. Clutching at straws here: I was rather impressed with Wasikowska’s Northern accent. As a proud Northerner myself, I found that my ears were not bleeding in response to her performance, as they indeed were post-viewing of One Day (Anne Hathaway has probably been ridiculed for this enough but casting her in that role is a representation of everything that is wrong with the film industry today. Why pick the best person for a role when you can pick the person who appears in the most magazines? Sorry, still bitter.)
At the same time, Judi Dench is as wonderful to watch as ever but her time onscreen is limited and there is very little she can do to improve the overall quality of the film. Her elderly housekeeper Mrs Fairfax is undeniably rather hammy but she is the only character that it is possible to have any real connection with. She is the only figure that I ended up caring about in the long run. Her happiness at having Jane in the house and their lovely reunion at the end of the film brings a much needed dose of emotion and life into the dusty Thornfield Hall.
However, I was thoroughly disappointed with the portrayal of Bertha as the gothic presence within the film. Having written my post-graduate dissertation on gothic fiction which I’m fairly sure now makes me an expert on the subject (hell if, Jamie Cullum can describe himself as an “expert on Shakespeare” thanks to his degree in literature then I can be a fucking expert on this.) The mysterious screams, the talk of dark figures walking around at night and secret passages are either forgotten or given such little emphasis that there seems little point that the discovery of the secret wife was included at all. They should probably have just fully descended into the world of romantic comedy and had Jane catch Rochester in bed with Judi Dench. Bertha, who is seen for all of 2 minutes, is reduced to the mysterious figure who sets fire to a bed, stabs her brother and give Rochester a well-deserved slap. In the novel, she is feral and very dangerous; within the film she is just an annoyance that prevents Rochester from getting it on with his employees.
Whatever the film lacks in figurative darkness it certainly makes up for in literal darkness. As far as cinematography goes, it was an interesting choice to use as few lights as possible during filming. I realise we are meant to believe that we are witnessing events within the past but that I would have thought it was prudent to allow the audience the chance to see the magnificent sets and Yorkshire backdrop. Of course, this could just be a clever cinematographic attempt to represent the darkness within Thornfield and the unseen gothic feeling that was such an important part of the novel but wouldn’t dare accuse this film of something so clever/pretentious. I
Although, for what you can see of it, the film is visually stunning. Great use is made, during the opening scene, of the wild moors that surround Thornfield. The costumes are stunning and Dario Marianelli’s score is beautiful. In terms of artistic merit Jane Eyre really does deserve the amount of praise it received following its release. Fukunaga’s style is simplistic and understated. He lets the materials that he has at his fingertips do the work for him and it is beautiful. It is just a shame that the main event, the love story, does not deserve it.
I guess, all in all, Jane Eyre is a decent enough film. The main actors both do commendable jobs that, had it not been for the fact that this is one of many adaptations, would have been satisfying. As it is indeed one in a vast ocean of similar works, this film fails to live up to the reputation of either the original material or the many others that have come before it. The main characters have been so greatly diminished that their love story doesn’t really stand out from the crowd. The film pretty much collapses under the weight of the reputation of its beloved and well-known characters. The ending (expertly mirrored in this review) is rushed and doesn’t offer an adequate resolution for the audience.