Reminiscing on my favorite Rochester – Jane Eyre’s 1983 BBC miniseries

The 2011 Jane Eyre’s film adaptation I’ve been waiting for quite a while opens today… alas, only in limited release. So that means I have to wait another two weeks before it finally opens in my neck of the woods.

My love for Jane Eyre started out perhaps five or six years ago when I came across this YouTube fan-made music video of the BBC 1983 version set to a Hoobastank’s song The Reason, an odd choice of song I thought but it kinda works for the story. In any case, it prompted me to rent this miniseries from Netflix, as well as bought the book (though I’ve only read the later half). I’ve also since seen two additional TV adaptations, the 1997 one with Samantha Morton and Ciaran Hinds and the most recent BBC adaptation with Ruth Wilson and Toby Stephens in 2006, but neither one ever came close to replacing the 1983 version. The reason? Well, isn’t it obvious? Timothy Dalton as Rochester, of course!

Yes, the production quality is far from perfect — poor lighting, uninspired costumes and sets and the totally dull, almost irksome music leave much to be desired. But once Dalton appears on-screen, you won’t notice ’em … or anything else for that matter. I love how faithful this miniseries is to Charlotte Brontë‘s vision, much of the dialog are taken from the book and the actors did a remarkable job delivering them convincingly. Zelah Clarke as Jane looks like a midget next to the 6’2″ Dalton and sometimes it’s a bit distracting, but her performance was strong and full of conviction which creates a powerful dynamic between the two.

Dalton is absolutely astounding as the ultimate Byronic hero. With that voice and screen presence, he’s born to play this role. I initially thought he’s far too handsome for a character that’s described in the book as someone ‘not possessing of a classic good looks.’ Though I’d be hard pressed to find a woman who thinks Dalton is ugly, we must remember that this was written in the 1800 where the standard beauty is fair hair, fair skin, with some kind of Greek statue-like features. So with that in mind, Dalton with his square jaw, dark hair and rugged, masculine features fits the physical description of the role nicely. But more importantly, he captures the essence of Rochester’s persona, the flawed hero with mercurial mood, ill temper, and a torrid past that still haunts him and ravages him with guilt.

Dalton imbues the complex character with such fire that makes other actors’ interpretation pales in comparison. Some plays the character way too angry who’s practically yelling the entire time (Hinds) or too romantic and a bit oversexed (Stephens). I know I’m going to get a lot of flak for saying that as that adaptation and specifically Stephens have a massive following, but hey, it is what it is. I really think Dalton’s interpretation is superior as he’s got a nice balance of danger, passion and longing, all the while retaining that mysterious and unpredictable aura about him that makes him so unnerving but yet so darn attractive. Rochester is the quintessential tortured soul and in Dalton’s eyes, that pain and forlorn-ness is apparent, especially in the scene where Jane was about to leave him for good, you could see his desperation and fear of losing her. There’s that frailty in him as he hits that breaking point and THAT scene to me is what sets Jane Eyre apart from other period romance. Dalton himself has said this role is one of his best works, and I absolutely concur. He totally sets the bar for the performance for me, or as my friend Prairiegirl said to me when I lent her my dvd recently, ‘Dalton spoiled it for me. I doubt anyone else will ever come close…’

Well, I’ve been going on and on about how terrific Dalton’s Rochester is. But why don’t you just check it out for yourself in some of my favorite scenes:

The ‘fire’ scene:

I knew you would do me good in some way, at sometime… I saw it in your eyes when I first beheld you…

Farewell, Mr. Rochester:

And how do people perform that ceremony of parting, Jane? Teach me; I’m not quite up to it.

The Proposal:

Do you think that because I am poor, obscure, plain, little that I am soulless and heartless?

I must leave you (in two parts):

Mr. Rochester, I no more assign this fate to you than I grasp at it for myself. We were born to strive and endure–you as well as I: do so. You will forget me before I forget you.

Now that the 2011 version is out, here’s my review on the film and how Michael Fassbender’s performance as Rochester fare against Dalton’s.

Now that I’ve shared mine, tell me who is your favorite Rochester and why?

38 thoughts on “Reminiscing on my favorite Rochester – Jane Eyre’s 1983 BBC miniseries

  1. PrairieGirl

    After watching a few clips on Focus Features site with Fassbender, I got the sneaky feeling that he won’t exceed Timothy Dalton in playing Rochester. We shall see…

    1. I have the same feeling, Becky. But if he’s at least as good, then I’ll be content. Though I’ll always have a soft spot for Dalton because he’s so under-appreciated.

    1. Vince

      I’ve only really seen the Orson Welles portrayal which was great. But judging from your clips – Dalton was pretty damn good.

      1. Oh yes, Prince Barin… he’s what I picture all those Disney fairy tale princes would look like 😉

        He isn’t just ‘pretty damn good’ Vince, he’s phenomenal!

  2. Ted S.

    Wow didn’t know before he was James Bond, Dalton was in a Jane Eyre’s movie. I still don’t understand why his career never took off in Hollywood, he’s a very good actor. Maybe he hired a bad agent who can only get him a villain role in other big Hollywood films.

    1. Yes, Dalton is very versatile. I found out not too long ago myself and was blown away by it as well, Ted. As for his career, who really knows… I read somewhere he prefers theater to films, and he probably turned down a lot of roles because of that. I for one wish he had been in more movies!

    1. Yes Dezzy, your assessment is spot on. It’s impossible to take your eyes away from Dalton here… and he sounds good too, just swoon-worthy overall 😀

  3. I just saw a Jane Eyre review in the rolling stones, and it was a rather positive one. And specifically in regards to Fassbenders performance it says “inhabits the glowing rochester with erotic intensity and leavening wit, never letting the tight beeches and puffy shirts do the acting for him.”

    1. Yeah, I’ve been reading the reviews on Rotten Tomatoes and glad to hear it’s well-received. I’m excited about it and boy, if that’s true the way RS is describing Fassbender’s performance, I really can’t wait to see!

  4. I hope you get to watch Jane Eyre soon. It was only in about 4 theaters when it opened. so hopefully soon it will make it’s way to a theater near you!

    The only Jane Eyre I’ve watched before this one has been the one with Orson Welles, which I enjoyed. Welles did a classic job as Mr. Rochester. I may give your beloved Tim Dalton a chance one of these days! 🙂

    1. My friend Becky and I are gonna see it in a week, finally!

      I haven’t seen the Orson Welles version, only the clips on YouTube. The funny thing is, I discovered the Dalton version on YouTube as well, along with the other versions that have been posted there. But the only one I immediately wanted to see is the 1983 one because Dalton was so mesmerizing. You definitely should check it out.

  5. Beautiful movie although after having read a book it is so difficult to picture all those actors as Jane or Mr. Rochester. I can’t help it, adaptations always disappoint me.
    Dalton is phenomenal indeed.

  6. Janet Darlington

    This is certainly a signature role for Timothy Dalton. I can’t imagine anyone could possibly
    be more appealing or effective in telling this story. His voice is the Best and he is the finest
    looking man I’ve ever seen. He is so natural and believable-inhabiting every role in a true and unique way.
    He is my favorite actor and I only wish we could see him more often!

    1. Amen, sister! Yes, his voice is indeed the best in the business, totally agree. I think he’s got one of those rare combination of looks, talent, gorgeous voice, etc. of any actor I’ve ever known. Too bad Hollywood doesn’t recognize that.

  7. Jill

    I saw the BBC production of JE when it was first released in 1983, and was completely mesmerised by it. The 2006 film simply left me cold, what with Jane’s bloodless performance, and the utterly insipid Toby Stephens – the pivotal scene at the church where their wedding is interrupted was a travesty, Stephens’ subsequent milksop, petulant brooding to regain Jane’s favor was no match for the bravura performance of Dalton. And, yes, I’ve read the book.

    1. Oh man, I’m glad I’m not the only one who thinks Toby Stephens just didn’t cut it as Rochester. I just never believed him as having mercurial mood or having any sense of danger. He seemed like a lusty puppy dog to me, ahah. Yes, Dalton is gonna always be the BEST Rochester to me, not even Fassbender beat him in the latest adaptation.

  8. I recently discovered Jane Eyre, the book, which I loved, and went on to watch the movie versions…was lucky enough to start with JE 83, and after watching it again and again, watched all the other versions too. JE 83 is the best by far, and I can’t find words for TD’s acting talent or looks. He was unknown to me, probably because I lived in Brazil, where I could have seen only the 007 movies, and as I was not into James Bond’s movies, I never saw them. Since then (3 months ago), I have seen every movie I can find, on netflix or youtube, have listened to the books he read, and am still in search of the time I wasted not knowing Mr.D…

    1. Hi there, yes I considered myself ‘lucky’ to have seen the 1983 version as the first JE movie. I went and bought the book after that and was astonished how loyal this version was to the book. Dalton nailed every single dialog and his emotional depth was just breathtaking to watch.

      Glad you are catching up on Dalton, I blog about him many times: And if you’re looking for an entirely different performance than Rochester, check out The Rocketeer:


  9. Logan Price

    The BBC film 2011 adaptation is worse than terrible. It destroyed the story, no acting, no feelings. Just one big nothing, a waste of time and money. The BBC mini series in 2006 was by far more superior Ruth Wilson and Toby xxx were superior as Jane and Rochester.

    1. Hi Logan, I thought for a second there you’re talking about the 1983 version… and I went, no acting??? What?? But yeah, the 2011 version just doesn’t have the heart-wrenching connection between the main characters that I’d expect from any JE adaptation. I mean it’s not terrible, but I don’t love it either. What do you think of this version (1983)?

  10. Logan Price

    Hello rtm;
    I finished watching the 1983 JE, all 11 episodes. It is very close to the original book. I went form Lebanon to England when I was 18 and learned English there before attending college. One the methods for teaching English is reading some of “Simplified English Series for Foreign Students” The first book I read was Jane Eyre. I re-read it a hundred times. It captured my imagination and I would go to different halls around the countryside imagining that JE lived there.
    My comments on the 1983 version is mainly the had wrong lighting. If you watch the BBC mini series (2006) where they captured the candle-light mood just right. After all, they lived in cold stone building with little natural light, yet in the 1983, when Rochester invited Jane to take tea with him, the lighting was so bright, almost harsh, I could see a couple of shadows of her head on her chest, I had to dim my TV to tolerate watching it. After all they were sitting by a fire, with only candlelit in the room. One of the mistakes I caught was when Jane returned looking for Rochester, she stopped at the in asking about Thornfield hall, the inn keeper informed her it was just 2 miles over the fields. Next we see her arriving at the burned hall. If she lived there for quite a while and she used to go to the village to mail her letters, why did she have to ask. If she needed to ask where it was, how come she new her way through unmarked road or path, she was walking the fields
    Otherwise all the actors did well. There was some critical conversations missing (compared with the book) especially when he opened up and told he loved her.
    Another noteworthy unacceptable part is the book and the 2006 version stated St. John found her a position as a village school teacher with a cottage, simply furnished. in the 1983 v. her cottage was a house with good furniture. the 2006 captured that rather well, they added few scenes with Jane interaction with her village students. Just another facet of her personality. None of that was in the 1983 v.. . . .
    She continued to call him sir till the end of the movie, yet not one time did he asked her to call him by his name, Edward, as in the book and other versions of the film. In fact in the 1996 Hollywood film, with William Hurt, when he was holding her to declare his love, he said when she called him sir “call me by name Edward” no pose, no hesitation between “name” and “Edward”. Things like these spoil a film. This was another “worse than terrible” film.
    Little Adel acted really well for a child.

    Thank you for the site and the blog; Logan

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  13. Olga

    1983 and Timothy Dalton, no question!
    I have seen all versions and am a huge fan of the book – you are so right in your assessment that this is the truest, most inspired version of the book – despite the title Miniseries (whatever that means). And whoever under-appreciates Mr Dalton as an actor is overlooking one of the greatest acting talents of our time. Well that is not me! Hoping to go to USA next year and will try to see him live, if there is a show on at the time!
    I think people should seriously stop doing new adaptations, it is all said in the 1983 film. Do not forget also that Zelah Clarke (who seems to have disappeared from the web at least) is as inspiring as Mr Dalton.
    If you want a good Jane Eyre audiobook to listen to in the car (careful not to crash! it is fascinating stuff), try Amanda Root as the narrator…

  14. drush76

    I don’t know if the 1983 miniseries was the best “JANE EYRE” adaptation. But I believe that Dalton was the best Edward Rochester.

  15. I really hope you love the Fass’ version of Mr. Rochester! I loved the 2011 film, and apart from that I’ve only seen the version with Orson Welles as Rochester (that was pretty okay too, but a bit too different from the book for my liking). I really want to see this one now, too!

    1. Hi Ruth! I did see the 2011 and though I think the film’s production quality is superb, it left me wanting as it was such an abbreviated version. As far as Rochester, Fassy was good but nowhere near as in depth as Dalton’s portrayal, so Dalton remains my favorite Rochester and perhaps shall always be so. Definitely worth a look if you like Jane Eyre, the Gothic feel is quite strong but it’s the emotional connection between Jane and Rochester is very heart-wrenching!

  16. Marsha

    The 1983 version is hard to beat. Both Timothy Dalton and Zorah Clark are mesmerizing as their characters, speaking the dialog straight from Bronte’s pen. I truly love this adaptation. As has been stated earlier, Dalton’s rich, plummy voice is gorgeous and his pronunciation makes his utterances sound like poetry. For me, the 2006 version comes second and is well done, but takes too many liberties with the material. The 2011 movie never engaged me. It was a Reader’s Digest version, leaving out all of the juice!

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  18. DeeDee

    Marsha you said it all.
    Noone can beat Dalton as Mr Rochester. The adaption is excellent except for poor lighting.. But. as soon Dalton enters the scene, everything else is irrelevant.

    1. Hi DeeDee! It was tough to beat Dalton and he’s one of my fave actors since he played 007. I do think the production values do matter and the 1983 version was awful. I wish I could say it was irrelevant but it was distractingly bad. But Dalton was indeed superb in the role, in a way he’s the only reason to watch this version.

  19. Barbara

    Timothy Dalton IS Edward Rochester.
    While watching the movie, I found it hard to believe a man could look as good as Timothy Dalton.

    1. Ahah, Dalton is extremely good looking isn’t he? It’s funny because Rochester is described as not much to look at, yet they always cast such gorgeous actors to play him!

  20. Jackie Williams

    I agree wholeheartedly with your comments. I first saw the Timothy Dalton version when it was aired back in 1983 and have never found a Rochester yet to compare. I loved that the 1983 version was long and detailed and so faithful to the book. The scenes after the failed wedding when Timothy Dalton is distraught at the thought of losing Jane are the best I have seen. In theory Timothy Dalton is far too handsome to play Rochester (and indeed Zelah Clarke too pretty for Jane) but I prefer to think that we are seeing the characters through each others’ eyes. Timothy Dalton brings wonderful intensity as Rochester and this version does not fade, even after (numerous!) repeat viewings.

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