It is safe to say that I have seen more adaptations of Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre than any other novel. Time and time again I am drawn to this story about an orphaned girl who is cast aside by society but eventually finds solace in her life. Whether it is the 1944 classic Hollywood version starring Joan Fontaine and Orson Welles or the 2006 BBC miniseries, Jane Eyre is that one story I am genuinely interested in no matter what graces the screen.
This adaptation, directed by Cary Fukunaga, is perhaps my favorite. It is an effortlessly fresh and moving take on the 19th-century Gothic novel. There is also a suprisingly modern feel to this Jane Eyre that felt everywhere from the sweeping shots to the dark undertones (Thornfield has so many secrets) and to the fiery love story ultimately unfolds.
Jane’s early life is told through flashbacks. Mrs. Reed (Sally Hawkins), her aunt through marriage and guardian, physically and emotionally abuses young Jane (played by Amelia Clarkson). Mrs. Reed sends Jane off to Lowood, a school where religious tyranny dictates the lives of its young pupils. Eventually the adult Jane, seeking her independence, finds employment as a governess at the isolated Thornfield Hall. There she meets Mr. Rochester and her life goes down an unexpected path.
A character as recognizable as Jane Eyre relies so much on the actress portraying her. It is what will determine how a version lingers overtime. In this adaptation the virtuosity of Jane Eyre comes from the performance of Mia Wasikowska as the title character. In the last year, the 20-year-old Australian actress has crafted a unique presence in Hollywood as Alice in Alice in Wonderland and Joni in The Kids Are All Right. She is the young actress of the moment. In Jane Eyre, Wasikowska shows her considerable range and her ability to carry a film.
The tenacity of Wasikowska’s performance, demonstrated above, dominates Jane Eyre. Rarely absent from a single shot, Wasikowska routinely outshines her costars (even Judi Dench in an enjoyable turn as Thornfield’s housekeeper Mrs. Fairfax).
Edward Rochester is portrayed by Michael Fassbender. His Rochester is rigid, menacing and borders on being completely unlikeable. His life is dictated by the secrets about his past and about Thornfield that he struggles keeps. But like Jane, we end up falling for Rochester too.
Jane Eyre demonstrates that this story about morality, religion, gender and class relations, independence, and passion has a timeless quality. It should hold up until the next adaptation comes along sometime next decade.