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09.04.2012- Film Review: Jane Eyre

I've always thought that adapting a well-known, much loved novel must be a really daunting task. Firstly, you have to ensure that your approach to the source text is both faithful yet somehow fresh, whilst maintaining the interest of your audience, especially if they are already familiar with the narrative. The latest adaptation of Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre, scripted by Moira Buffini, succeeds beautifully on all of these counts. Directed by Cary Fukunaga, the film is steeped in period detail, but retains a very modern aesthetic, making it simultaneously authentic, engaging and immersive.

The narrative centres on Brontë's eponymous heroine, Jane Eyre (Mia Wasikowska), who takes on a position as governess to the ward of Mr. Rochester (Michael Fassbender) at the imposing Thornfield Hall. The genius of the storytelling here lies in the way in which the action has been structured- we first meet Jane when she is at her lowest ebb, wandering the moors in desolation before being taken in by St. John Rivers (Jamie Bell) and his family. From there we learn of her harsh upbringing, firstly at the hands of her unrelenting aunt (icily portrayed by Sally Hawkins) and then at Lowood School, where she is sent to recognise the perils and evils of being a sinner. By slowly revealing this back-story, we get a real and emotive sense of the suffering which Jane has survived, as we see the world of the film through her eyes. In this exposition, young Jane is beautifully portrayed by Amelia Clarkson, who immediately captures our attention and serves to make us empathetic to Jane's plight from the outset.

Fast forward ten years, and Jane is transformed into the beautiful Mia Wasikowska, who radiates a sense of innocence and fragility which is the legacy of her upbringing. However, as the story progress and her relationship with Rochester develops, Jane becomes a confident, resolute and determined young woman- a transition which Mia captures perfectly. Michael Fassbender is her perfect counterpoint as the enigmatic Rochester, filling every scene with a brooding charisma and underlying sense of conflict which quietly foreshadows the denouement of the narrative. The relationship which they play out is fantastically convincing, capturing all the subtleties and nuances of falling in love with a sense of pathos and emotion which is beautifully mirrored by Fukunaga's aesthetic choices.

Visually, the film is fresh, vibrant and innovative, with Adriano Goldman's cinematography breathing new life into Brontë's vividly described, much recreated vistas. The exposed landscape almost becomes a character in and of itself, capturing the unforgiving wilderness of the moors, most notably during the montage of Jane helplessly looking for shelter after discovering the grim secret which has haunted Thornfield Hall for so long. Pathetic fallacy is an intelligent storytelling device used to great effect throughout, with the landscapes and weather atmospherically mirroring the overarching feelings of the characters; this is particularly striking as the blooming of Rochester and Jane's fledgling relationship is reflected in the arrival of spring. The subtlety of the storytelling here is something which I found really engaging, and a welcome change from many book to film adaptations which can often veer into an overly literary style at the expense of depth, characterisation and a sense of realism.

Overall, the film is really refreshing diversion from the majority of predictably plotted, conventional period adaptations. Fukunaga's attention to detail and methods of visual storytelling serve to evoke a fully believable world, which we experience and understand through the innocent eyes of the heroine. Buffini's script is poetic without feeling too bookish, and the dialogue which she has crafted for the panoply of characters which inhabit the world of Brontë's vivid imagining is admirably faithful to the source material. It is this dialogue which in turn affords the stellar cast an opportunity to breathe new life into some of classic literature's most iconic characters, and, under the confident direction of one of cinema's rising talents, they wholeheartedly capture our imagination.

A must watch if you're a fan of the story or simply want an excellent introduction to the world of Jane Eyre.

Have you seen Jane Eyre? If so, what did you think?

(Image credit: Focus Features.)


  1. Wow, this was a great review. I haven't seen the film yet but i'm definitely intrigued now :)

    ♥mollie from musicandmollie


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