Why do film-makers keep coming back to Jane Eyre? Charlotte Bronte’s story has elements of horror, mystery, revenge, romance, and morality, but it is an internal narrative, Jane’s own clear-eyed but personal view of her story (“Reader, I married him.”) And yet, it is such a perennial favorite that this is at least the ninth (at least and so far) English-language cinematic visit to the wild moors and the wilder hearts of Jane Eyre. And that is not counting the many, many variations and spin-offs, including a book and movie that tell the same story from the perspective of another character.
Jane Eyre is an orphan, raised under the cruelest circumstances by her aunt (Sally Hawkins). Her spirit and integrity are such an affront to the aunt that she is sent away to a charity school called Lowood, where the girls are treated with contempt. She makes one true, loving friend, a girl named Helen, who ties of consumption in Jane’s arms. When she finishes at Lowood, Jane (Mia Wasikowska of “The Kids are All Right” and “In Treatment” in a performance that beautifully conveys both Jane’s emotional vulnerability and her strength of character) takes a job as a governess at a home called Thornfield. She is warmly welcomed by the housekeeper, Mrs. Fairfax (Dame Judi Dench) and her charge, a little French girl, but it is some time before she meets her new employer, Mr. Rochester (Michael Fassbender, in a less broody, more desperately unhappy performance). When she first sees him, she is walking in the woods and his horse rears up and throws him. She must help him to the house and they walk slowly, him leaning on her heavily. The emotional upheaval and unexpected intimacy of this encounter are followed by mysterious disturbances in the house, by an anguished longing, an almost unimaginable romantic ecstasy, and then by betrayal, loss, a new start, unexpected independence, and then acknowledgment of a connection too strong to resist.
And it is that relationship, all smolder and repressed passion, that answers the question. The Eyre/Rochester romance has inspired happy sighs for 160 years and in these days, when so little is repressed that no one makes time for smolder, it still delivers.
Director Cary Fukunaga (“Sin Nombre”) wisely used natural light and no make-up to give this version a rough, natural, intimate feel. Jane’s hair is a smooth loop over each ear with an intricate knot in the back, showing capability and determination. And perhaps some imagination as well. The way that the setting and events seem to embody the emotion the main characters cannot express, which is what makes an internally narrated story so compellingly cinematic.
Parents should know that this film includes child abuse and a sad death of a child, disturbing and scary incidents including a fire, and a nude picture.
Family discussion: Why wasn’t Jane afraid of Mr. Rochester? How were they alike? How does the setting help tell the story?
If you like this, try: the book by Charlotte Bronte and the other movie versions of this story, especially the 1943 version with Orson Welles and Joan Fontaine and the 1996 version with William Hurt and Charlotte Gainsbourg, and try the book or movie “The Wide Sargasso Sea,” the same story told from the point of view of the woman in the attic.