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?

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?

THIS JUST IN: JANE EYRE 2011 trailer debuts!

I know I just posted a trailer yesterday but I have been anticipating this for so long! Ever since I saw the 1983 BBC version of Jane Eyre, I fell in love with Charlotte Brontë’s Gothic romance and Dalton as the the ultimate Byronic hero Edward Rochester. I love how faithful it was to the book, but the entire production is rather tedious and the costume, lighting, etc. left much to be desired. Then I learned about indie director Cary Fukunaga’s vision of the movie, and was really intrigued by his vision. As a fan of the novel, he intends to capture the dark and spooky atmosphere of the novel, as the story is so much more than a period romance.Well, judging from this trailer, looks like he achieved what he set out to do.

First look of the new Rochester


Last September, I couldn’t help pondering about which actor could play Rochester. Now, the German-born Michael Fassbender wasn’t on my list, but after seeing him in the trailer, I’m more than pleased by the casting choice! Dalton was a tough act to follow and I wasn’t impressed by Toby Stephens’ portrayal in the latest BBC version, but Fassbender looks poised to be my new favorite. Yes, he’s still far too good looking for the role, just like most other actors playing Rochester. But the important thing is he’s able to bring that mercurial, tortured-soul sensibilities the role requires, but with ample of sex appeal 😀

The overall look of the movie definitely looks promising and with a top notch the supporting cast! Here’s the cast info from my previous post: Dame Judi Dench will play Mrs. Fairfax, the housekeeper of Thornfield Manor who hires Jane, and disproves of Jane’s relationship with Rochester. One of my fave young thespian Jamie Bell (Defiance, Billy Elliot) will play St. John, a young clergyman who helps Jane in a time of need, and turns out to be connected to her by blood. Sally Hawkins (Happy-Go-Lucky, An Education) will play Mrs. Reed, Jane’s terrible aunt, who terrorizes and abuses Jane as a orphaned child.

I know that a lot of people out there probably think, ‘another Jane Eyre adaptation?!’ But this one might offer what have been missing in the previous adaptations… staying true to the novel whilst keeping the tone fresh and contemporary. I absolutely can’t wait until March 11 of next year for this!

Oh, I just found another still photo that’s just been released… I’m dying to see how the proposal scene goes with Jane’s ‘Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain, and little, I am soulless and heartless?’ heart-wrenching speech. I adore the one from the 1983 version, it’s just one of my favorite scenes in the miniseries.

Any Brontë fans out there? What do you think of the trailer… and specifically, Fassbender as Mr. Rochester?