FlixChatter Review: Jane Eyre (2011)

After nearly a year of waiting, finally I got to see the latest version of one of my favorite classic love stories, Jane Eyre. The oft-filmed Charlotte Brontë’s gothic novel has been adapted into tv and motion pictures more than two dozen times, not to mention countless theater work of the same name. It’s amazing that after its first publication in London in 1847, one hundred and sixty four years later the story still resonates and beguiles people the world over.

Fukunaga on Jane Eyre’s set

Even if you haven’t read the book, I presume most people are familiar with the story of a young governess who falls for her employer who’s twice her age, the ultimate Byronic hero Edward Rochester. Brontë’s Jane Eyre is decidedly darker than many romantic period dramas, such as those by Jane Austen or even Elizabeth Gaskell’s North & South, there are elements of mystery and horror that plague the protagonists’ lives. 33-year-old director Cary Fukunaga is fully aware of it and makes the most of those elements into his sophomore effort (his first was the acclaimed immigrant-themed indie Sin Nombre).

Instead of a straight review, for this purpose I’d like to list what works and what doesn’t in this adaptation. It’s longer than usual because there’s just a lot to cover, so bear with me.

The Good:

Fukunaga’s direction – He preferred natural light for much of the film, forgoing camera lighting and instead opted for candles which created the proper dark, moody and gloomy atmosphere that matches Rochester’s temperament perfectly. He used some hand-held camera work to great effect — Jane walking through the corridor, narrow gates, etc. — but not too much so that it became distracting. The extremely gloomy and rainy setting give the beautiful Spring-y backdrop during the day scenes much more impact, and they seem to mimic the sentiment the protagonists are feeling.

Thornfield Hall, Rochester’s expansive mansion looked like something Count Dracula could comfortably settle in. It almost became its own character in the story and adds the necessary spookiness we come to expect from this Gothic tale.

Click to see a larger version

Judi Dench as Mrs. Fairfax – When does Dame Judi ever disappoint? Apparently never. Even in small roles, the scenes she’s in are one of the best ones in the movie. There was an important scene involving Jane and Rochester where Mrs. Fairfax didn’t utter a single word, but she made quite an impact just with her expression. With that bonnet and frumpy frock, it’s hard to imagine she’s the same woman playing James Bond’s formidable boss, M.

Mia Wasikowska as Jane – A lot of the issues I have with literary adaptation is that the supposedly plain heroine usually ends up being played actresses who are too glamorous for the role. Fortunately in this one, Wasikowska was believable as a plain young girl, though she obviously is a pretty girl. At 18, she’s also the perfect age for the role. If I were to nitpick though, she’s not exactly ‘little’ as she’s described in the novel as Rochester doesn’t quite tower over her.

In any case, I thought she did a wonderful job carrying the film. She captures the essence of the strong-willed character who holds her own against her much older subject of her affection, and one who despite ‘not being well-acquainted with men’ doesn’t seem intimidated by them.

Michael Fassbender as Rochester – In many ways, we evaluate a Jane Eyre adaptation by its Rochester, and as long as we use that ‘calculation,’ I think he measures up quite well. He has a strong screen presence and is the kind of actor who’s usually the best thing even in a so-so film (i.e. Centurion), and he makes the best of what’s given to him for the role. By that I mean, given the relatively short screen time, which is less than what I had hoped to see, he was able to make us care for Rochester.

Which brings me to…

The not-so-good:

This cliff-notes version feels way too fast. With a complex story like Jane Eyre, no doubt it’d be a challenge for any filmmaker, no matter how talented, to pare it down into a two-hour movie. So it’s inevitable that this film just moves along too quick for me, it’s almost at breakneck pace! Of course that is not Fukunaga’s fault and he really made the most of it, but still this version just leaves me wanting more. I guess this is perhaps a more ‘accessible’ version for the crowd that otherwise would not watch Jane Eyre. But to me, the story is compelling enough that an extra half-hour would only enhance the viewing experience and allow enough time for the characters to develop authentic connection.

Click to see a larger version

Dialog omission. Again, this is not a criticism as much as a ‘wish list’ on my part, and perhaps a result of being ‘spoiled’ by the comprehensive 1983 version (which at 5.5 hours is perhaps the longest adaptation ever). Of course it’s impossible to include every single dialog from the book, but I was hoping at least some of the important ones are kept. The famous quotes such as  “I am no bird; and no net ensnares me”, Do as I do: trust in God and yourself”, Reader, I married him” are not spoken in this adaptation.

There’s also an issue with the way some of the lines were delivered, I just find it lacking bite, y’know that certain oomph that an actor does to bring those timeless words to life.

Jamie Bell seems miscast. Now, keep in mind I really like Jamie as an actor and have said so many times in this blog. However, I don’t feel he’s right for the role of St. John (Sin-Jin) Rivers. First, when you’ve already got someone as striking as Fassbender as Rochester, I’d think the casting agent would have to find someone much fairer than he. No offense to Jamie, but that’s not the case here and he certainly doesn’t fit the book description of ‘tall, fair with blue eyes, and with a Grecian profile.’ Now, physical appearance aside, he also lack the solemn and pious sensibility of a Christian missionary.

Unconventional storyline – Moira Buffini’s script tells the story in flashback mode instead of following the novel’s linear storyline. The movie starts off right as Jane is leaving Thornfield, which is right smack dab where the main crisis of the story begins. Now, I can understand that it’s done to make it less boring rather than following the five distinct stages of the book faithfully. Yet it gets confusing at times to figure out which part happens in the past or present. I think for someone not familiar with the book, the shuffled timeline might be a bit tough to follow.

In conclusion, despite me leaving the theater wanting more, I really think this is a worthy adaptation. The production quality is really top notch, with gorgeous cinematography, affecting light work and music that serve the story well. There is even one scene of Jane and Rochester that Fukunaga took liberty with that’s quite tantalizing. It caught me off guard but wow, I must say that scene left me breathless and is an effective way to convey how much Jane longed for her true love.

But in the end, as far as Rochester is concerned, even though I adore the actor, Fassbender still hasn’t replaced Timothy Dalton as my favorite in the role. Sure, the production is much inferior to this one, but what makes a Jane Eyre story so fascinating and memorable are the heart-wrenching connection between the two main protagonists and the dialog spoken between them, so in that regard, the 1983 version is still the one to beat.

4 out of 5 reels

Those who’ve seen this one, feel free to offer your thoughts about the film. Also, if you’ve seen several adaptations, which one is your favorite?

55 thoughts on “FlixChatter Review: Jane Eyre (2011)

  1. Ted S.

    As I mentioned before, I’m not into period films unless it was an action/war type of film. Because of that, I’ve never seen any of the Jane Eyre films. It’s kind of interesting that these English period pics were directed by Asian dudes, this one and Sense & Sensibility was directed by Ang Lee.

    1. Ha..ha.. yes Ted, very astute observation there, man. Yep, S&S is one of my beloved faves, this one is good but not exactly a classic. Dalton’s performance is still more affecting than Fassbender’s.

  2. PrairieGirl

    Agree with your review 100%. This is the third adaptation of JE I’ve seen, and the story just begs to be a mini series. Never thought I’d sit through a 2 hour film and feel it needed to be longer. (Glad it wasn’t however; I know which theater here in the TC I’ll avoid in the future!)

    The hands-down winner so far is certainly Dalton’s in 1983. But now I’m very tempted to see another film version, probably the Orson Wells/Joan Fontaine 1943 one. A very young Elizabeth Taylor plays an uncredited role as Helen, Jane’s childhood friend in the orphanage in this version.

    1. Hey girl, it was fun going w/ you! Well, as you predicted, I wasn’t blown away by this version. It’s still a pretty good effort on Fukunaga part but it’s just darn near impossible to compress such a complex story into a 2-hr movie! Yeah, it’s not the best moviegoing experience, and that stupid girl forgot to turn her cellphone off, come on!

      I’d like to see the 1943 version, too. I did see clips of them on YouTube, I think I pretty much have watched nearly a dozen JE adaptations there. We’ll see how Wells fare against Dalton as we both know Fassbender didn’t quite match him.

      1. PrairieGirl

        Not only did her cell phone go off, first she climbed over us and two other people on the aisle, and then her friend comes in minutes later and does the exact same thing, even though there were plenty of other seats!

        Well, at seeing a dozen adaptations, I’m sure you’ve got us all beat!

  3. Don’t Panic!!!

    I am here! That may I say is a blooming good read.

    As you know period drama and the custard do not generally mix. But, I am changing, with your influence!!

    Thanks for putting this together must have taken ages!!


    1. Hey I appreciate you commenting, despite this not being not your cup of tea, Custard. You’re a good pal 🙂

      A blooming good read, that’s very sweet of you. Well y’know I LOVE period dramas so I’m feeling rather indulgent w/ this review. Don’t worry, I’m not going to suggest you watch the 5.5 hour JE adaptation 😀

  4. Love the format of your reviews these days. I can’t say this is my cup of tea but I’m certainly intrigued given all the good reviews I have been seeing. The fact that it’s directed by Cary Fukunaga is also a big draw. I will be sure to look for it on Netflix 🙂

    1. Thank you Castor, I had so much to say on this one that it’s easier to do ’em w/ bullet points. Fukunaga is very talented, he did a great job adapting such a complex story. I do hope you get to see this one day, I presume it’d be your first Jane Eyre you’d watch? 🙂

  5. Paula

    I am crazy-busy today so i just skimmed this but i have to say I agree about Jamie Bell. In the book the character is described as a Greek god, he’s supposed to be a contrast with Rochester (or so I wrote in my paper!). He also has a star-crossed romance with a goddess-like girl, but that’s not in the movie.

    i have plenty else to say LOL but it’s going to be a minute 🙂

    1. Hey, thanks for taking the time out of your busy schedule to comment, girl. Yes, Sin-Jin is supposed to be a stark contrast in both looks and temperament, but I’m not seeing that here. Jamie’s portrayal also made it look like Sin-Jin has a crush on Jane, which is not the case in the book. In fact, he proposed because he thought he’d be a good missionary wife, not because he loved her. He’s actually attracted to Miss Oliver and vice versa, but won’t entertain that thought because she’s not fit to be a missionary wife. I thought the portrayal in the 1983 version also got that part right.

  6. I will try to get this one on dvd. And i watch a diverse array of movies, so even though i am not a huge period drama person i will still try to see this.

    Honestly, i don’t think there is any movie genre that i would refuse to watch. My dad watches a lot of different genres, so i’ve grown to do the same

    1. Good for you Julian. This one has a horror and mystery elements to it instead of just straight romance, so I think you’ll enjoy it.

  7. Vince

    I saw the director’s first feature Sin Nombre which was excellent. That was a gritty film with very authentic actors, performances and locations. I can see how that same craft could apply to Jane Eyre – so based on your incredibly thorough and well thought out review, I’m glad to hear the new version has taken this on as well. I’ve only seen Fassbender in 300 but will see Fish Tank and maybe Centurion just to get a feel for his chops. But as I can tell from your review, the film is well made and one worth seeing (if only I could find free-dad time). That said, Dalton is a high bar to compare to (and that after only seeing a couple of clips you posted). I’ve only really seen the Joan Fontaine and Orson Welles version and I loved that one. I think you will appreciate it too. But that is probably a Cliff’s Notes version as well…

    1. I need to check out Sin Nombre, Fukunaga really has a knack for making a realistic atmosphere for his films. Thanks for the kind words about my review, I had to pare it down as I kept going into more details… I guess I just love JE so much.

      Oh this is definitely worth seeing, Vince, especially if you like the director’s style. Dalton is nothing short of astounding as Rochester, so perhaps I set the bar a bit high. Yeah, I’ll see the Orson Wells one, looks good from the clips I’ve seen.

  8. I’ve seen the film last weekend too. I deeply enjoyed Fassbender, Dench, Poots. Didn’t mind Bell in the role, although it’s true that he might be a bit of a brat for this kind of period setting. What ruined the film for me, as expected, was the lead female actress. And for some reason I wasn’t as amazed by the settings in the film as I thought I’d be.

    1. Not a fan of Wasikowska I take it, Dezzy? I suppose she could be a bit more emotional and passionate as Jane but I thought she was pretty darn good. I didn’t notice Imogen much though, her scenes were very brief. She was good in Centurion though.

      1. Paula

        i had no feeling about her one way or another, but i liked her as JE. My impression of that era is that paid subordinates weren’t supposed to have feelings, let alone emote 🙂

        Re: Centurion…I have to say, that’s a movie i’d have liked to have seen on a big screen. I’d be the first to admit it’s not the greatest flick ever made but i think it would have been stunning-looking. It never got here tho, i think we watched it on demand.

        1. Ah you’re right, and she’s never had much friendship with a man before, let alone a boyfriend. So it made sense that she’s sort of perplexed in front of Rochester most of the time, perhaps trying to process what it is she is feeling. I did see the torment in her mannerism whenever she hears Blanche Ingram’s name being mentioned.

          Centurion was ok, I like the other actors in addition to Fassbender: David Morrissey, Dominic West, etc. Yeah, the setting is quite striking.

          1. Paula

            most memorable to me was how she looked when Mrs. Fairfax tried to put her on her guard after the proposal…pouting a bit like a child. just for a moment. i thought it was appropriate.

  9. Paula

    i think they conflated his feelings for Miss Oliver into his dynamic with Jane & it didn’t work. I also would have liked to have seen some of the famous lines get in, but i think they were trying to switch it up into something new. Hence the flashback structure, which i actually really liked. Also it was a really beautifully shot picture, the DP mixed it up with a lot of different techniques, jump cuts, subjective angles, etc. and i really liked that.

    i really liked Fassbender in this one, he’s my favorite Rochester now. But I didn’t have one before. I went in horribly biased & nothing has changed. I’ve seen 6 or 7 Jane Eyres but to be fair it’s been years since i saw the Dalton version. I hope you won’t ban me 😉

    one thing we can agree on i think is how rude & obnoxious people are! Sounds like you all went through even worse than what we had. I didn’t pay $10 to hear people talking like they are in their own living rooms watching a DVD & talking on the phone. It seemed worse than usual, I don’t know if it’s because I noticed it more with a relatively quiet film (no explosions, car chases, gunfights, etc.) or if it’s just that particular cinema. I mean, somebody actually yelled, “Uh-oh!” Seriously. I was expecting to hear, “Don’t go in the attic! Oh my God, they went in the attic!”

    One last thing: i noticed is that it seemed like a lot of the stuff that was in the trailer was not in the movie…usually with movies these days they show you the whole thing. I haven’t watched it again but I remember the line, “….half dream, half reality” and i’m pretty sure that wasn’t in the movie.

    1. No it didn’t, I didn’t even catch her name being mentioned. I didn’t mind the non-linear storyline, but I’m just saying it could get confusing for people not familiar with the story. The DP and cinematographer did a good job in alternating the camera angles to spice things up, I agree.

      Hey, that’s ok if you think Fassbender is your fave, to each their own right? I actually went in with an open mind despite how strongly I had felt about Dalton (and despite my friend saying that he’d be impossible to top). In fact, I was prepared for Fassbender to take the reign so to speak as my fave Rochester, but in the end, it just didn’t happen. He’s my #2 fave now 😀 Glad you didn’t say Dalton was the worst though, I think William Hurt and Ciaran Hinds’ portrayal was bad, while Toby Stephens’ one is serviceable.

      Yeah, this was by far one of the worst movie-going experience for me. I don’t think I’ll be back to this theater again unless I absolutely have to. Unfortunately, some indie stuff just never got to the regular theater 😦

      Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that in my review. I was looking for that scene, too. I can’t believe they left that part out, it’s pretty crucial to the story IMO.

        1. No, I haven’t. I’ve been meaning to since I saw the 1983 version. I think it’d be an interesting one to read and see how Rochester first fell for Bertha Mason. It’s be a heck of a lot saucier than a Jane Eyre story 😉 There’s a movie made on that as well I think.

          1. Paula

            yeah there is a movie of it, but it didn’t really have too much to do with the book. it was saucier than both books. i wrote a paper on WSS in college but i want to re-read it. It’s from Bertha’s POV. i don’t think we really get Mr. R’s rationale. He is quite the villain in it IIRC. She was the one trapped, the subjective nature of experience, etc. 🙂

            1. Yeah, I read that Rochester was the bad guy in WSS. Well I suppose he would be in Bertha’s POV, wouldn’t he? But remember, she’s the one declared mentally disturbed 🙂

              1. Paula

                there’s a whole bunch of “unfeminine” behavior that could have gotten a girl committed back then though, reasons that had nothing to do with mental stability. just a really sad & repressed society.

  10. Vanessa

    Cant wait for this to come out here!
    Did you read somewhere that they only used candlelight? Cause usually what looks like natural lighting is still very clever DOP work.
    I’ll have to check out the 1983 version as well!

    1. Paula

      it wouldn’t surprise me if they did use candlelight, i’ll have to look for that 2nd time around. The DP ~would~ need to be clever in that case, shooting in really low light is not easy.

    2. Hey Vanessa, I hope you get to see this soon.

      I think this is one of the articles where I read about the use of natural light including candles in the night scenes: http://www.emanuellevy.com/comment/jane-eyre-return-to-thornfield-part-1/

      Cinematographer Adriano Goldman is amazing, very talented just like Fukunaga.

      You ought to check out the 1983 version just to see Dalton. Unfortunately, I can’t say the production quality is as good, it’s typical low-budget BBC stuff.

  11. I am so glad that you got to finally see it, and wow, it looks like you rather enjoyed it. I was curious as to 2 different actors’ performances in this film and you satisfied my curiousity towards them: Jamie Bell and Michael Fassbender.

    I really want you to watch the 1943 version with Orson Welles so bad http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0036969/ Welles’ portrayal as Rochester is one of my favorites!

    Overall, glad that the film didn’t disappoint as you waited a year to see it! 🙂 Great review!!

    1. I’m glad I got to see Jane Eyre in the cinema, this is a first. It is indeed very well-done and despite some of the shortcomings I mentioned, I still would highly recommend it. Fukunaga is definitely a director to watch in Hollywood.

      Yeah I’ve put that Orson Wells version in my Netflix. Thanks for reading, T.

  12. I haven’t seen this one yet, but your comment “This cliff-notes version feels way too fast” caught my eye. That’s exactly how I felt about every version of Pride & Prejudice I saw after the A&E series with Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle. Some people loved the Keira Knightley film, but when I saw it I felt like I was watching a film in fast-forward mode.

    1. Hi Margaret, welcome to FC! Yeah, it is challenging to adapt such a complex story. If you think the P&P version is fast, then this one is going to feel even faster. It’s still worth watching though, I’m curious to hear what you think about the cast.

          1. I have on TV. I believe one of them was a BBC version. Never mind knowing directors, I couldn’t even tell you actors’ names. Rich over at Celluloid Zombie has given up hope of my ever becoming a movie snob. 😉

  13. I just watched this movie a couple of days ago and I’m completely OBSESSED with it! You might not know this, but whenever I’m obsessed about a movie, I immediately look for your review about it to compare our opinions. I did it with Bright Star and How to Train Your Dragon, to name a few. So now, I’m doing the same thing 🙂

    I’ve always loved period drama movies, and this particular movie captivated me to no end. Granted, I haven’t watched any other movie adaptations of JE, but I believe I can boldly say that Fassbender is my favorite Rochester! 🙂

    “There is even one scene of Jane and Rochester that Fukunaga took liberty with that’s quite tantalizing.” >> I’m curious about this. Which particular scene were you talking about?? I think I know which one it is, but I just wanna make sure we’re on the same page, hahaha…

    1. Hi Wulan, how are you? Oh I’m flattered that you check my reviews to see what I thought on a given movie.

      As for JE, well you can’t have a favorite if you haven’t watched the others, ahah. I like this one but I feel that it didn’t grip me as much as the Dalton’s version did. I’m not comparing the production quality as of course this new one wins hands down, but to me, the success of a Jane Eyre movie lies in the strength of the actors playing Jane AND Rochester, especially the latter as I’m a girl 😉 Trust me, if you’ve seen Dalton’s version, you’ll see what I mean. He was almost unhinged when Jane wanted to leave him, it was heartbreaking to watch! I don’t fault Fassbender here as I think he did well, it’s just… um, not enough somehow. The chemistry just wasn’t as strong as I would’ve liked it.

      Oh, that scene I was talking about is when Jane fantasized about Rochester visiting her, and when she opened the door Rochester came in and kissed her. Woof, that was quite something!

      1. You’re right, I can’t have a favorite when I haven’t watched the others, but I’m not sure when I’m going to be able to do that. I mean, the Dalton’s version is years ago, isn’t it? It’s almost impossible to find the dvd in Indonesia, so I might as well claim this version as my favorite, hahaha… But now that you’ve mentioned it, I am going to dedicate my time visiting the dvd store to find that particular movie. I can totally see myself swooning over Mr.Dalton 🙂

        I knew it! I knew you were talking about that scene! I thought, “OK, I haven’t read the book yet, but I know this can’t be from it. Absolutely no way!” It’s just too passionate and steamy for a Bronte’s novel! But man oh man, that scene took my breath away… *fanning self

        1. Oh yeah, I figure it’d be impossible to find the ’83 version in Indo. It is available on YouTube though, take a look at this scene when Rochester first met Jane, when she ‘bewitched’ his horse, that’s what he called it.

          Dalton is so dark and drop dead gorgeous as Rochester, I couldn’t take my eyes off him! Plus his voice is so breathy and sexy. The ‘fire scene’ especially, oh my, you’ll be swooning all over. I feel like ANY Rochester after him just simply cannot live up to his portrayal.

          1. Oh noooo…. I’m currently still obsessed with Fassbender. I don’t think I can watch this now. Not yet. But I’m definitely going to watch this. Bookmarked! 😉

            1. Ahah, well I was obsessed with Dalton but I was willing to give this Jane Eyre a try, I even watched parts of the 2006 version w/ Toby Stephens who I think is far worse than Fassbender. To me, Rochester has to have that desperation and vulnerability to him and neither of those younger actors captured it as well as Dalton did. Ok I’ll shut up now, I think action speaks louder than words 😀

              1. Paula

                I’ve tried…but i just can’t stay out of this! I still maintain that Fassbender’s Rochester gets the closest to what’s ~really going on in the book. & he has a nice voice too LOL

                1. Well in this case, we’d have to agree to disagree, girl 😀 I’ll be in team Dalton forever… as Bond AND Rochester! I always go for the underdog, I think Fassy has plenty of fans to defend him.

              2. Oh, don’t get me wrong. I will DEFINITELY give Dalton’s version a try, and I have a feeling I’ll fall in love with him even more (I’m a fan of Dalton even though I haven’t seen many of his movies. I mean, that voice and that smile! Dang!). I’m just not sure if I’m ready to pass the title from Fassbender to Dalton just yet. It’s just too soon, I tell ya! hahahaha..

  14. Incredible review! I agree with you that the flashback construction was amiss. I felt like it confused the story, but overall I really liked this, and Fassbender was exceptional.

    1. Why thanks Andrew! You made me glad I tweeted this as I wrote it so long ago. I guess I’m partial to Dalton’s portrayal of Rochester but the production quality is superb here and I did think Fassbender was very good. He fits the character so well though I can’t ever imagine him being not-much-too-look-at, the way he’s described in the book.

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