Even those who haven’t read Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë are likely to be familiar with the story. Much maligned orphan is sent to lonely old house in the Yorkshire Moors as a governess, falls in love with owner, brooding Mr. Rochester, liaison is thwarted, she leaves, returns, etc. etc. Eighteen film versions and six miniseries later – what’s left to tell?
A lot, as it turns out. Director Cary Fukanaga’s first film Sin Nombre centred on migrants from Latin America. Although vastly different, Jane Eyre also deals with belonging, seeking and finding an emotional home.
In this case, it’s a place furnished with the romantic longing typical of the era as well as substantial moral rectitude (Brontë père was an Anglican clergyman). Fukanaga plays it up to good effect. Jane is formed but not broken by adversity, with compassion turning to passion once the proper subject (Rochester) has been found.
Wasikowska gives a pitch-perfect performance as Jane, who chooses to ignore the warning signs that all is not well at the Rochester manor, because she wants to make things right. As her sentiments deepen, gradations of change flit over Wasikowska’s pale, composed features until she smiles, releasing what looks like a sheer fountain of joy.
Fassbender plays a wearily and warily humorous Rochester, sustained by the hope, long kept in check, that he has found an equal, a partner to provide a port in the Gothic storms that rush over the moors outside.
Yet Rochester lies about his past. As such, he is a flawed character, even if the fault is not entirely his. This weakness is the lynchpin of both novel and film. Darkness must fall over him before partial redemption is possible. The muted chromaticity that dominates much of Jane Eyre, both indoors and out, sets the tone.
Jane Eyre | Directed by Cary Fukanaga, with Mia Wasikowska, Michael Fassbender, Judy Dench (UK, USA 2011). Starts December 1