Pondering the latest remakes of the Brontë sisters’ novels

I recently saw the trailer for Bright Star (see trailer below), which is about the poet John Keats and his love and poetic inspiration Fanny Brawne. It looks pretty good, especially the fact that it’s based on a true story. Being a fan of period pieces — with Ang Lee’s Sense & Sensibility being my utmost favorite — I might check that one out. Hopefully it’s better than the rather underwhelming Becoming Jane (which I had hoped to like better than I did). I’m not familiar with Ben Whishaw’s work other than seeing him in the creepy Perfume trailer, but Abbie Cornish was good in Elizabeth: The Golden Age.

Dalton as Bronte Sisters' Heroes
Timothy Dalton as Bronte Sisters' Heroes

Now, seeing that trailer made me ponder about the developments of the Brontë sisters works — yup, you guessed it: Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights — which have been done many times over! Just by searching in IMDB, there are 20 and 15 TV and film adaptations respectively, and I don’t think they’re done with either anytime soon. My favorite version of the Jane Eyre adaptation pretty much depends on who plays the role of Rochester. Well I’m a girl, so naturally! It’s no coincidence that it’s played by the most underrated thespian on the planet: Timothy Dalton, who also happens to play another Brontë’s literary hero Heathcliff in 1970.

Let’s talk about Wuthering Heights first. Published in 1847, Emily Brontë’s novel is a tempestuous and tragic love story across social classes between Heathcliff and Catherine. It’s a dark, brutal and eerie tale of unrequited, unbridled love that shall remain timeless. I haven’t seen the Ralph Fiennes version with Juliette Binoche as Cathy, but based on the 1970 version, Dalton was excellent as the brooding, ferocious yet bewitching protagonist. So when I heard they’ve picked Ed Westwick for the 2010 adaptation, let’s just say I’m not at all keen on it. I mean, come on, that teenybopper from Gossip Girl? So he’s got dark hair and a Brit, but among the lineup of Fiennes, Dalton, Laurence Olivier, Ian McShane, just where does Westwick fit in?? Unless this is a WB TV version perhaps? [scratching head]

Although Heathcliff is generally typecast as a romantic hero, his brutality and madness actually makes him quite an unsympathetic anti-hero. It’s a rare and complex persona that requires a certain actor with substantial talent and charisma to pull it off believably. Heath Ledger, who reportedly is named after that legendary character, would be perfect in this role. Other more spot-on contenders would be Henry Cavill (The Tudors), James McAvoy (Atonement), Rupert Friend (Cheri), those are just on the top of my head. Oh, I could see Lee Pace (The Fall) in this role, too, he’s got a strong presence on screen and fellow movie blogger Meredith would agree he’s got dramatic acting chops in spades. Gemma Arterton (agent Strawberry Fields in Bond’s Quantum of Solace) seems an ok choice as the equally troubled Kathy, although I’ll be tired of seeing her as she’s going to be so many films next year (Clash of the Titans, Prince of Persia). Casting aside, I’m curious to see how loyal this version would be to the novel (this UK site has a pretty comprehensive list of WH adaptations and how they fare). It’s far more than just two young people falling in love. The dark, gothic theme of the book is filled with grim and unpleasant characters that’s tricky to translate to screen.  My gut tells me with Westwick on tap, they’ll probably sugarcoat this intricate story to appeal to the junior masses.

Now, as for Jane Eyre, the equally enduring novel by Charlotte Brontë, the heroine is a lowly governess who falls in love with her much older boss, Edward Rochester. She’s the “poor, obscure, plain and little” girl who tantalize Rochester, but remains stern despite her strong feelings for him. I love the scene where Dalton’s Rochester held the petite Jane (played by Zelah Clarke) in his arms when she threatened to leave him, and he said, “how could something so small be so indomitable?” There are so many heart-wrenching scenes in that BBC miniseries, but I wish the production (especially the lighting and Jane’s costume) and pacing were a bit more appealing.

Juno actress Ellen Page — who’s Canadian — has been signed on to play Jane, which irked the British film industry that such a famous British role went to someone from across the Atlantic. I’m still on the fence on that myself. Although she looks the part, I don’t know if she’d be my first choice. Nevertheless, I think she’s a good actress so I hope she’ll surprise me. They have yet to find the actor to play Rochester though, which I’d be anxious to see who ends up scoring such a classic character. Like I mention above, Dalton forever defined the role for me. I know I’m going to draw a lot of flak from a plethora of his fans, but BBC 2006 version’s Toby Stephens just didn’t come close to Dalton’s mesmerizing portrayal. He wasn’t a bad choice, but Dalton set such a high standard that I have yet to see anyone else top him. Even Dalton himself said Rochester was the highlight of his career, and I agree. The IMDB reviewer of the miniseries said it all:

Rochester is, famously, not handsome; Jane and Rochester are literature’s famous ugly couple. And Timothy Dalton is nothing if not stunningly handsome. But Dalton gives a mesmerizing performance as Rochester. He just blew me away. I’ve never seen anything like his utter devotion to the role, the text, the dialogue, and Rochester’s love for Jane. Dalton brings the page’s Rochester to quivering life on screen.

Rochester’s imperiousness, his humor, his rage, his vulnerability: Dalton conveys all, sometimes seconds apart. It’s stunning.

The casting director in me has been dreamily jotting down which actors have the potential to fill such big shoes of playing Rochester. If we’re to be loyal to Bronte’s book, he’d shouldn’t be someone classically good looking. But that shouldn’t be a barrier either, as personifying Rochester ought to go beyond the physical form. Just like Dalton, who despite his stunning good looks, was astutely able to capture the inner turmoil and essence of the hero’s byronic nature. Byronic is essentially possessing a forlorn, temperamental, melancholic characteristic with a great disdain and regret over his dark past. With that in mind, here are my top picks:

  1. Richard Armitage – I mention Richard a lot on my blog and for good reason: he’s perplexingly underused! If you’ve seen him in North & South, you know he’d be perfect as Rochester. He can do forlorn and brooding on cue. Add a touch of madness and voila!
  2. Rufus Sewell – Rufus is known to play charming bad boys so this role would fit him like a glove! Imagine watching those lovely, dreamy eyes glancing at miss Eyre with secret longings despite his devil-may-care exterior.
  3. Dougray Scott – This underrated Scot has proven his range, he’s played a villain in MI2, a prince in Ever After and WW II code breaker in Enigma. He’s somehow got a permanent gloom in his eyes even when he smiles, which would suit Rochester byronic nature nicely IMO.
  4. Joseph Fiennes – The darker looking of the Fiennes brothers, Joseph is the less well-known of the two, but no less talented. Convincing as English literature greatest figure in Shakespeare in Love and a prolific stage actor, I’d think this talented actor would do the Rochester role justice.
  5. James Caviezel – Best known in his role as Jesus in The Passion of the Christ, I first noticed this Washington state native in the costume drama The Count of Monte Christo. He’s got that melancholic look about him, yet he’s played a villain convincingly (Deja Vu). If he could nail the British accent down, I’d love to see him in the role.

Now, I’m purposely going with somewhat obscure (to most moviegoers anyway) actors here, but these more well-known thespians could be great in this role as well:

  • Daniel Day-Lewis – Duh! Is there any role this guy can’t do? He might be a bit too old though at 52, as Rochester is supposed to be in his late 30s.
  • Gerard Butler – He’s played dark, tortured soul believably as Phantom, so no doubt he could do Rochester just as well and be so darn sexy to boot!
  • Johnny Depp – No stranger to costume drama, Johnny will bring a quirkier version of the Thornfield Hall master. Not only can he get the accent down, we know there’s that tortured-soul quality about him that’s wildly captivating.
  • Clive Owen – The tall + dark Brit naturally looks moody and brooding, and with an Oscar for one of his dramatically brutal performance in Closer, we know he can tackle this role.
  • Gary Oldman – He might bring out the more sinister side of Rochester. Just like Day-Lewis, Oldman can pretty much believably play any role, but at 51, he might also be a bit too old.
  • Hugh Jackman – The last romantic period piece he did in Kate & Leopold was absolutely swoon-worthy, despite the lame plot. He would be the first Aussie to play Rochester, and those tight-fitting Victorian costume would fit him oh so well!

So what do you think, folks? Do you find any of these actors worthy of playing Rochester?

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20 thoughts on “Pondering the latest remakes of the Brontë sisters’ novels

  1. PrairieGirl

    Well, my choices for Rochester are extremely predictable: #1 Rufus, #2 Gerry, #3 Hugh (LOVED him in Kate & Leopold). Maybe dreams CAN come true??…

    1. I’m with you there, with his stage background, Rufus and Hugh can definitely nail this role. GB gets my top vote though, just ’cause he was devastatingly and heartbreakingly touching as the Phantom… and the critics can’t rip him for his singing in WH (though we both agree the guy CAN sing!).

  2. Clare

    Ellen Page is no longer attached to the role, the project seems to have fallen through. Just so you know.

    I’m sceptical that WH will get off the ground either to be honest. However, i don’t think it’ll be a successful adaptation . I’ve read an early draft of the script and it is sickenly sugar coated.

    But, if i got the chance, i would definitly cast someone with an olive skin tone for Heathcliff, i think it’s time we had a Heathcliff closer to how EB described him, rather than a pasty white Englishman.

    1. Hey, thanks for the tip, Clare, do you have the source by any chance? I was searching for updated news this past weekend and couldn’t find any updated info other than the one with Page attached. Well, I’d rather have them spend more time polishing the script and finding the right people worthy of such classic roles, than seeing another rushed but inaccurate adaptation.

      As for WH, it’s such a pity they couldn’t find a decent script, but I kind of predicted that after Westwick being cast. The skin-tone thing could be a pretty easy fix with some extra tanning/makeup, but capturing the ‘essence’ of the tortured soul, now that’s a heck of a lot trickier.

    1. Yeah, WH is the kind of story that’s rather hard to stomach at times. But the right cast can change everything. I’ll definitely keep an eye on this one and hope it gets made.

  3. Samantha

    My choice for Rochester is Mark Strong. Originally I had said Robert Downey, Jr. (yes, despite his American-ness and my personal belief that his British accent sucks) because with those eyes, he could be absolutely amazing. However! I decided to go with Strong because he seems to be rather an up-and-comer, I find him oddly attractive (see: Stardust) and he is requisitely dark, brooding, and mysterious. And quite the actor.

    By the way, just found this blog, and you get major points for pushing some of my absolute faves (Crowe and Butler)!

    1. Mark Strong, yes! I knew I was forgetting somebody, he absolutely could play Rochester. I too think he’s a talented but underrated actor, and quite good looking, too. He’s the best thing in “Rocknrolla” next to Gerry Butler, I’m sure you’d agree =) Did you know he was in a movie with Butler before? He was in the BBC miniseries “The Jury” as Len, the jealous husband who beat up Butler’s character Johnnie at his apartment. He was a jerk in that role though, but he’s definitely got range. Glad that Hollywood finally noticed him.

      1. Samantha

        Haven’t seen Rocknrolla yet … it’s in the queue. I’m going to have to check out this miniseries as well, I guess. Running out of Crowe films to watch, so maybe I’ll make Gerry my next project. Looking forward to multiple Strong appearances w/favorites : Rocknrolla, Body of Lies AND Robin Hood, Sherlock Holmes (also huge RDJ fan)…

    2. Hi Sam, have you seen Crowe’s old flick Heaven’s Burning (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0119272/)? It’s an Aussie-made film, a rather bizarre B-movie, but Crowe is always watchable. I saw it during my intense Crowe-groupie phase, he..he… I still like him, but not as much as I used to.

      As for Gerry, well, have fun having a Gerry-fest. May I suggest checking out this article I had on him if you haven’t already: https://flixchatter.wordpress.com/2009/09/09/my-top-5-favorite-gerard-butler-roles … The Jury would be a good one to start with, but The Phantom should be on everyone’s list as a lot of people became a fan because of that film.

      1. Samantha

        Haven’t seen Heaven’s Burning yet. Also on the list. HAVE seen No Way Back, Rough Magic, Breaking Up, and The Sum of Us, though, if I need to flash RC fandom cred. 😀 Totally dig your GB list, although I was somewhat disappointed in Phantom. I saw Timeline at a friend’s house in 2002 and lost my mind over Marek, and that was that. Definitely loved him in Dear Frankie, too. The Jury’s the only one on your list I haven’t seen. Flixable?

    3. I quite like Rough Magic, he’s sooo cute in that even though it wasn’t a great movie. Crowe’s got so much charisma that it doesn’t matter if he gained weight or whatever. Robin Hood is gonna be great, I can’t wait for that. Haven’t seen No Way Back, what is it about?

      May I ask why you’re disappointed with The Phantom? Just curious that’s all. I like him as Marek too, just wish he were the lead instead of Paul Walker! His performance in The Jury is heartbreakingly good… I cried every time… it’s as if he became Johnnie with all the struggles he went through. If you could get your hands on it, he’s great in this old British sitcom “Lucy Sullivan is Getting Married” – playing a cad so beautifully =) I might post a clip of that one of these days just for fun.

      1. Samantha

        100% agreed on RC’s charisma. I thought he was hot in The Insider. No Way Back is your standard action flick, kinda … mostly bad acting, silly plot, lots of shooting. Popcorn flick. With Helen Slater, Kelly Hu, and that kid who plays “The Anointed” on Buffy. Oh, and a totally bizarre appearance by Ian Ziering, basically playing Hando with none of the charisma of the man himself.

        Re: The Phantom, I guess it wasn’t GB himself that I was disappointed in, so much, as the film as a whole. Instead of making a MOVIE out of the musical, they sort of just put the musical on screen, I thought, and it wasn’t even that good a production. I think GB probably turned in a good performance but the other leads were so lackluster that he came off as chewing the scenery. Seriously, I saw it in the theater when it came out, so excited, loved GB and was hoping it’d make him a star, and then … sadness. But I’m glad that plenty of other people loved him in it!

    4. Ian Ziering??! What’s the casting director smoking at the time? Still it might be worth checking out just to see Crowe.

      I see what you mean about Phantom, GB’s definitely the saving grace on that one… but then again it’s a Schumacher flick, that guy is inherently an art director that’s often indulgent in the wrong thing. But I enjoyed it on account of GB and was willing to overlook the movie’s faults because of his performance. Just the Point of No Return scene alone with all the cape-swinging sexiness is worth the admission fee! =)

  4. rockerdad

    All good choices I think –– I say RTM –– you have a casting touch for morbid brooding leading men. Bright Star looks very good. Campion’s films have always been a bit atmostpheric (in a good way) and this movie will be no different.

    1. Morbid brooding leading men… ha! I guess I like ’em talk, dark and disturbed? he..he.. What do you think of a Gossip Girl dude as Heathcliff??! I mean, COME ON!

      Bright Star looks awesome, I might check that out if I can find it. That Ben Wishaw is gonna be the next Daniel Day I think… he’s got the right amount of danger and he’s not so bubblegum-like good looking like the Twilight boys, which is a very good thing.

  5. Eh, Rupert Friend? I like him but I think he’d be awful for Heathcliff…he almost immediately makes me think of Linton. True, Gossip Girl is not the smartest show but Westick (and Meester) are kind of brilliant on it. I really think Westick would make a good Heathcliff.

    That being said, when I was younger and had read the book for the first time (which was like 7 years ago) I immediately thought of Joaquin Pheonix/Kate Winslet. They’re too old now, but that would have been perfect. Phoenix especially has all that crazy passion for Heathcliff.

    Wasted opportunity.

    (But Joseph Fiennes as Rochester. Whoa, THAT could have worked.)

    1. Yeah I guess you’re right, he’s probably more suitable as Edgar Linton. Westwick would be a hard sell for me, but who knows, with the right director, MAYBE it could work… though I’m not sure I’d be as interested in the adaptation.

      Oh man, Joaquin/Winslet would be PERFECT as the tormented lovers… both definitely have that obsessive love thing going for them, they’d be so believable. Hey, if Ralph Fiennes and Juliette Binoche could play them, why not those two??

      I figure if Ralph has played Heathcliff, then why not have his brother as the other Bronte hero? The headline could say something about the Fiennes Brothers are the Bronte Sisters’ romeos 😀

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