The British suffer from several compulsions, among them royal weddings, the cooking and consuming of terrible food and the constant remaking of film-versions of their literary classics.
I have to believe that they really can’t help themselves, especially when it comes to the likes of Jane Austen or Charles Dickens, as if every 15 years the world was storming the gates of the British Broadcasting Company demanding a new version of “Pride and Prejudice.”
Currently leaping out of the recycling bin is Charlotte Bronte and her dour, romantic masterpiece “Jane Eyre,” which has been given its umpteenth translation to film.
I can’t really fault the Brits for each of their generations wanting to make their cinematic mark on these classic works, but your not exactly going to be breaking new ground the 17th, 18th, 19th time around.
Therefore you almost have to look at these BBC productions like the restaging of classic plays. You never judge a Shakespeare Festival by saying, “Oh man, I can’t believe they’re doing ‘Hamlet’ again.”
You know the story and you love the story, which is mostly likely why you are there in the first place. Your critical eye then must turn to the production quality, the chemistry of the actors, the deference paid to the original text and the sheer number of corsets.
You’re not looking to be blown away by originality, but instead are there to be comforted by the familiar beats of a beloved tale. Following these criteria, the 2011 version of “Jane Eyre” is a loving and faithful adaptation that features some solid acting and dynamic enough presentation to keep modern audiences from falling asleep.
For those that have forgotten or spent most of your Senior English classes drinking beer in the high school parking lot, “Jane Eyre” is the tale of a young orphan girl in 19th Century England named, interestingly enough, Jane Eyre. Jane, coming from a family of some means, isn’t cast out on the streets, but is instead sent to a strict boarding school where she is trained to be a governess.
Jane is played by the up-and-coming Australian actress Mia Wasikowska whose roles in “Alice in Wonderland” and “The Kids Are Alright” have her on the fast-track to Hollywood’s A-list.
Naturally Jane possesses a strength and vitality that far surpasses her station in life. After she graduates she moves to the estate of the handsome but moody Mr. Rochester (Michael Fassbender) to tutor his young ward.
Romance blooms slowly, as it always does in high society of 1800s Britain, amidst some mysterious and unsettling goings on in Rochester’s massive home. Once you get past the “been-there-done-that” aspect of the story you’ll find plenty new to sink your teeth into, especially the dynamics Wasikowska and Fassbenber bring to Jane and Rochester’s relationship.
Director Cary Fukunaga infuses his movie with darkness, both literally and figuratively. “Jane Eyre” oozes with an atmosphere not typical for a costume drama. He also manages to get the most from his fine cast; and it never hurts when you can bring Judi Dench in off the bench for the supporting role of Rochester’s housekeeper Mrs. Fairfax.
This is a version of “Jane Eyre” that should be pleasing to purists, but lively and compelling enough to attract some new devotees to austere tale of tragic romance and personal triumph. And if you miss it, don’t feel too bad, another version will be along in another decade or two, just like clockwork.
“Jane Eyre” is rated PG-13 for some thematic elements including a nude image and brief violent content.