Directed by Cary Fukunaga
Screenplay by Moira Buffini
after the novel by Charlotte Bronte
The BBC Films logo comes straight on the screen credits before it begins. The BBC’s raison d’être is doing 19th century female novelists. It’s probably in their foundation document (The BBC shall unless otherwise excluded from doing so by war or famine or Acts of God, produce two serials a year by 19th century female novelists, plus a Dickens and a Hardy). Their move into film co-production carries their history.
Jane Eyre is a biggie. How many versions have people seen? These things have a function. A close relative gained A-levels in English (grade A star) solely on TV and film versions of the set books. No actual type inferfered with her studies on the flickering screen and sixth formers for years to come will bless this version. Jane Eyre is also a hard one. You know the ending. You’re tempted to yell ‘Watch out! Behind you! There’s a mad woman upstairs with a box of matches / flint!” and ‘Don’t do it! He’s already married!’
Mia Wasikowska as Jane Eyre
The 2011 version wins on locations and direction, and on having a Jane Eyre who is exactly my mental picture of Jane Eyre. If she wasn’t before, she is now. Rochester’s easier to do … an intense manly actor with breeches and big sideburns does the trick. Jane Eyre is ethereal, but stubborn. Poor and plain, but incredibly attractive. Independent but in a servile position. It’s a complex role, but it’s no problem.
The light in the film is astonishing. You’re in early 19th century interiors. You can feel what it’s like to have your boundaries set by the flicker of a candle and the glow of a wood fire. Every other film that portrays this does the Festen thing: you can’t see what’s going on at all through the murk. This production lets you see what’s happening but gives you the whole of the moon. mood.
Judi Dench in bonnet as usual as Mrs Fairfax
Mia Wasikowska as Jane Eyre, is, it turns out, Australian of Polish origin. Well, she convinces me totally as a North-Eastern English lass. Now there’s a North Yorkshire face if ever I saw one, I thought. Judi Dench (Mrs Fairfax) has spent many years of her career in a bonnet and long dress, and immediately inhabits the role so definitively that you can’t imagine anyone else doing it. Michael Fassbender (German-Irish) does the Mr Rochester sideburns acting. And acts the sideburns with aplomb. Mind you, with him having such a big one (the castle, that is) it’s difficult to believe he’s a mere Mr. And a bigger surprise not to see Colin Firth playing the part. We thought that was obligatory under the BBC Charter with Austen / Brontes / Elliot. But after the King’s Speech he’s become cuddly and Rochester isn’t cuddly. The castle looks duchal at least. The young actors are outstanding … Amelia Clarkson as Young Jane, and Romy Settbon Moore as Adèle. The boarding school scenes are particularly powerful. Sally Hawkins confounds those who identify her with her Made in Dagenham role by doing the evil auntie, Mrs Reed.
Michael Fassbender as Mr Rochester
There are Speilbergian surprises, that sudden stuff to make the audience leap up with a start (though not the fire in Rochester’s bedroom strangely … that was somewhat tame when it needed to be terrifying). They saved the dramatic intensity for the discovery of the wounded Richard instead.
There were genuine laugh out loud lines, hardly to be expected with this story, from both Jane Eyre and Mrs Fairfax. They’re not played for comedy, just well-placed, well-timed and surprising.
The North Moors locations are the co-stars with Mia Wasikowska in a version of the well-known story that will resonate for years. It’s the best it’s been done.