Jane Eyre 2011: A Review

I was not particularly impressed with the new version of ‘Jane Eye’ the first time I saw it. I would have described it in two words: Low-key. (Or, is that one word?) Everything is so quiet. The only scene that was really dramatic, with action and noise, was the scene of Jane and Rochester’s aborted wedding (a scene, by-the-way, described in the book as quiet1). Oh, and I guess St. John Rivers gets a bit passionate in his last scene. Everything else, though, is very quiet and low key. John Reed and Jane fighting at the beginning, all the scenes at Lowood, the scenes with Jane and Adèle, with Jane and Rochester, &c. Everyone talks so quietly. No one gets excited. I never heard Mason scream when Bertha stabbed and bit him. The subtitles (I watched the movie a second time round with subtitles, to compensate for how quiet the movie is) stated that a woman was laughing, but that was all. Lots of the talking is just in the background — “indistinct”, as one subtitle read. Rochester’s horse can’t even be heard approaching in the scene where he first sees Jane (that whole scene I thought was rather odd, and not well done). The director, Cary Fukunaga, said that he wanted the movie to be “a mix between the love story and a kind of horror movie.”2 Don’t watch this expecting a horror movie. It is quite calm.

I think that Jane’s childhood was not very well done. Her childhood is supposed to show where Jane is coming from in her thinking and feelings, but it only gives a scant outline, almost devoid of emotion. Her background is made more austere than it was in the book. In the book, an epidemic of typhus at Lowood causes good changes there. Jane narrates in the book, “The school, thus improved, became in time a truly useful and noble institution.  I remained an inmate of its walls, after its regeneration, for eight years: six as pupil, and two as teacher; and in both capacities I bear my testimony to its value and importance.” (Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë, Ch. X). Most of Jane’s time there, therefore, was positive. However, in the movie, the only mean teacher at Lowood, Miss Scatcherd (played by Sandy McDade), is the only one to really make an appearance. Her stern, unloving face is shown as she hushes the children who are saying good-bye to Jane as her time at Lowood ends — when she leaves the school at age eighteen. In the movie, Jane’s only friend at Lowood, Helen Burns, dies. In the book, Jane has two friends, Helen and one of the teachers, Miss Temple. It is Miss Temple’s marriage that precipitates Jane’s departure from Lowood (see chapter X).

I saw screencaps of the movie before I saw the movie itself. Mr. Rochester was smiling so often in the pictures that I thought — “This must be the happiest movie portrayal of Rochester.” Well, if this is the happiest Rochester, it is the most depressed Jane. She hardly ever cracked a smile. At one point Rochester says to her (in both the book and the movie) that she is not naturally austere (see chapter XIV), but, speaking from the movie, I am inclined to disagree with him. Even after Rochester asks her to marry him, she doesn’t seem much happier. There are a few scenes (just after he proposes and then when she is drawing a picture of him, and when they kiss under the flowering trees in the garden) where she is smiling and laughing, but otherwise she is nearly just as solemn as before.

The complaint has been made about this version before that there are too few scenes between Jane and Rochester before their engagement. I agree. There are literally two scenes (excluding the scene where Rochester falls off his horse and Jane helps him back up) with them together in conversation before Jane saves him from the fire, at which point he (in the movie) almost kisses her — and they are supposed to be obviously in love. In the deleted scenes, there is a scene where Rochester tells Jane about Adèle’s background, which I think really should have been kept in. It would have provided something toward the much needed lead up to Jane and Rochester falling in love. (Besides which, I think the way that Jane comes over and takes the shuttlecock from Rochester and then walks off is cute.)

I thought that the dropping of the cousinship between Jane and the Rivers family was very odd. Perhaps more probable, but it made the whole St. John and Jane as brother-sister thing rather weird. Moreover, having made that choice, I really think that they should have left out St. John kissing Jane, or, at the very least, not on the lips. That just managed to come across as disgusting. Mary and Diana Rivers (played by Tamzin Merchant and Holliday Grainger respectively) were good, however, although they make only brief appearances. Even in their short time, they manage to come across as cultured, kind, gentle, and good-humoured. They even managed to look like sisters. Jamie Bell as St. John is good too, being both good and severe, although he is not, in my opinion as good as Andrew Bicknell in the 1983 version of ‘Jane Eyre’. He was an excellent St. John, and none that I have seen before or since match up to him. I thought that Mr. Bell’s scene where he keeps calling Jane “Miss Eyre” until she notices that he isn’t calling her “Miss Elliot” was amusing and very well done. The beginning of that particular scene is very strange, however. When St. John comes to visit, Jane hears him knocking and fantasizes that Rochester has come to her and she kisses him — and then the man changes to St. John. They are not shown kissing, but it almost makes it look as if she kissed St. John by mistake.

This version did, in fact, grow on me a bit the second time I watched it. I still think that it is too quiet. It is so quiet that it is really difficult to hear what is going on. However, there were some particular scenes and some of the depictions of characters that I really liked.

I liked the depiction of Mrs. Fairfax, especially at the end. My sister always deplores Jane’s “drama queen” escape from Thornfield. She thinks that Jane should have asked Mrs. Fairfax for help. In this version Mrs. Fairfax gently reproaches Jane for not coming to her for help, and assures her, brokenly, that she had no idea that the lunatic was Mr. Rochester’s wife. Judi Dench portrays Mrs. Fairfax as a kindly woman who really cares for Jane’s best interest. Her advice to and concern for Jane after she becomes engaged to Rochester is good, and her anxiety and fearfulness for Jane when she and Rochester come back from the church is evident. You can see her apprehension that some of her fears for Jane are about to come true.

Adèle is cute, if somewhat subdued. She seems about the right age, unlike the girls who play her in most of the other versions. Romy Settbon Moore plays her as a little coquettish perhaps, but much more like a real little girl than other actresses have done. The way she thanks Rochester for his gifts to her when he comes to Thornfield was adorable. She really is a very cute little girl. The movie never tells what becomes of Adèle, but I suppose we can assume that she was sent to school.

Setting aside her representation of Jane as continually depressed, Mia Wasikowska, does a good job of portraying her. There were a few scenes that I thought she really did superbly. The way Jane reacts to Rochester leaving after the fire is very good. The reaction of a girl who is falling in love, and believed the man was in love with her, but is now realizing that since he is above her in station, he is unlikely to view her in that light, but will probably marry from his own class, is very well done. When she leaves Rochester after helping him with Mason, her face is admirably expressive. In the proposal, Jane’s disbelief, though perhaps a bit too brief, is excellent. She asks, “Are you mocking me?” in just the right tone, and when he asks her if she doubts him, her “Entirely!” is perfect. Miss Wasikowska does a marvelous job of showing Jane’s anger and pain at having been deceived by Rochester. The part where she is nearly tearing off her wedding clothes was very well executed — it shows her emotions superbly. The scene afterwards does a good job of condensing. Rochester’s excuses and sorrow and Jane’s struggle, are well portrayed without taking up too much time. Jane’s lines are good in this scene. Her “You are deceitful!” and the way she tells Rochester that she cares for herself, and her cry of “God help me!” show her pain, her struggle, and her determination.

Michael Fassbender as Mr. Rochester was pretty good. He was brooding and stern, without out being too offensively rude (as Ciarán Hinds was in the 1997 version of ‘Jane Eyre’). The fact that the movie dropped any reference to any of Rochester’s mistresses besides Céline Varens was a great improvement over the book. I also like the fact that they don’t make it look as if Rochester is leading Blanche Ingram on as he does in the book. (In one of the deleted scenes, they even have her mother wondering why she is proving so very “un-engaging” to him.) I don’t care if she wasn’t a good person, or that she eventually rejected him (when it was rumored that his fortune was much smaller than supposed3), it still was a wrong thing to do to her. Imagine the pickle Rochester would have been in if his rumor of a diminished fortune hadn’t put her off! As mentioned before, the scene between Rochester and Jane after she finds out that he is already married was very good. Mr. Fassbender manages to make Rochester’s agony real, without making him too drippy.

I think that the novel Jane Eyre is a great book in many ways, but that it is far from being perfect. I’ve already mentioned a couple of changes from book to film that I liked. Of course, it would be impossible to list every ommission, or change from the book, and whether I liked it or not, as much condensing was necessary, but another omission that I appreciated was the lack of Jane’s cringe-worthy line to Rochester, “wherever you are is my home—my only home.” (Ch. XXII.) For some reason, during every new adaption of ‘Jane Eyre’ that I see, I hold my breath when Jane returns to Thornfield from Gateshead, hoping that she won’t say that line. I don’t like the idea of a young woman revealing her feelings for a man when she has no idea that he returns them, and, in fact, even thinks that he plans on marrying someone else. As in many adaptations, much of the dialogue was changed. There were a few silly lines, such as Rochester’s “Make haste with your letter. Who knows what might lurk in these dark woods?” Some of the new dialogue, though, I enjoyed, like the conversation between Jane and Rochester about her “tale of woe”. “I’m the same plain kind of bird as all the rest,” Jane tells him in reference to his earlier comments, “with my common tale of woe.” I liked Jane’s “I’m not going to feel sorry for myself” attitude (“I have no tale of woe, sir,” she says earlier) and how she doesn’t view herself as somehow better, more intelligent, or more interesting than anyone else.

One change that I didn’t like was to the scene where Jane takes leave of Rochester before she goes to visit her dying aunt. This is one of my favorite scenes in the book because of its droll humor. It has such great lines, like Rochester’s “Right, right!  Better not give you all now: you would, perhaps, stay away three months if you had fifty pounds.  There are ten …” and:

“At your peril you advertise!  I wish I had only offered you a sovereign instead of ten pounds.  Give me back nine pounds, Jane; I’ve a use for it.”

“And so have I, sir,” ….

“Just let me look at the cash.”

“No, sir; you are not to be trusted.” (Chapter XXI)

I wish they’d kept more of this scene in the movie — what they have is cute, but it’s not enough.

There have been some complaints on the contraction of the last scene — how short it is. I didn’t have a problem with it, though. It conveyed what it needed to convey with enough emotion — Jane even smiles in the end! I don’t think that any more was needed. I do think that Jane could have spoken to Rochester sooner — she leaves him in doubt and suspense a little too long, but other than that I thought that it was adequate — not spectacular, perhaps, but sufficient.

For the rest, the music is fine, though, like the rest of the movie, usually quite low-key, and is pretty enough. The costumes are good. Jane has some very pretty, quiet dresses. Adèle’s dresses are cute, and Mrs. Fairfax has some lovely aprons. Mrs. Reed’s and Blanche Ingram’s dresses are, appropriately, more colorful, and are quite pretty. The scenery is pretty too. The gardens around Thornfield are lovely, the moors are magnificent, and the houses grand. The scenery around Jane’s cottage in Morton is beautiful. As for bad content, the movie deserves the PG-13 rating it gets, but only because of one scene which is easily skipped, having no dialogue, or anything else that would make its omission conspicuous. This is a scene where Jane is gazing at a painting of a nude woman. The painting is shown in close ups, and is totally inappropriate, but, as I said, easily skipped. Earlier in the movie, the same painting is shown in passing, but not as close up. I didn’t notice any swearing (it was conspicuously absent from several of the scenes in which Rochester swears in the book), but there might have been a little. Oh, and in the scene where Jane puts out the fire in Rochester’s bedroom, he is seen with only a nightshirt on. Nothing is shown but the bottom of his legs and his bare feet as he stomps some of the fire out. He subsequently pulls a pair of pants on. There was nothing else of concern that I noticed. Possibly for children, some parts may be frightening, and there are several scenes of kissing and embracing, but nothing too intimate.

So, overall, I came away with a pretty good impression of the movie. It may even be my favorite version.

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1 “The morning had been a quiet morning enough—all except the brief scene with the lunatic: the transaction in the church had not been noisy; there was no explosion of passion, no loud altercation, no dispute, no defiance or challenge, no tears, no sobs: a few words had been spoken, a calmly pronounced objection to the marriage made; some stern, short questions put by Mr. Rochester; answers, explanations given, evidence adduced; an open admission of the truth had been uttered by my master; then the living proof had been seen; the intruders were gone, and all was over.” (Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë, Ch. XXVI.)
2 In an interview, the cinematographer, Adriano Goldman, stated, “Cary told me that this should be a mix between the love story and a kind of horror movie.” This interview in included in one of the special features on the DVD of ‘Jane Eyre’ (2011) called “The Mysterious Light of Jane Eyre”. The quote begins approximately 40 seconds into the feature.
3 “What love has she [Miss Ingram] for me [Rochester]?  None: as I have taken pains to prove: I caused a rumour to reach her that my fortune was not a third of what was supposed, and after that I presented myself to see the result; it was coldness both from her and her mother.” (Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë, Ch. XXIII.)
Images: Movie poster from Period Films. Screencaps from rawr_caps, scaled and cropped by myself. It is believed that the limited, non-profit use of low-resolution screenshots for commentary and discussion of the film or of the picture itself qualifies as fair use.
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