Fukunaga’s second feature is a gloomy and brooding adaptation of the famous Charlotte Bronte novel.
Dir. Cary Fukunaga
2011 | UK | Drama/Romance | 120 mins | 1.85:1 | English
PG (passed clean) for some thematic elements including a nude image and brief violent content.
Cast: Mia Wasikowska, Michael Fassbender, Jamie Bell, Sally Hawkins, Judi Dench
Plot: A mousy governess who softens the heart of her employer soon discovers that he’s hiding a terrible secret.
Awards: Nom. for 1 Oscar – Best Costume Design
Source: Focus Features
Subject Matter: Moderate
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: Slightly Mainstream
(Reviewed in theatres – first published 19 May 2011)
I don’t think anyone would be bothered to count how many book-to-screen adaptations of ‘Jane Eyre’ there have been since the dawn of cinema. Rest assured, there have been many.
The latest by director Cary Fukunaga, who won the top directing award for Sin Nombre (2009) at Sundance, appears to be another in a long line of such adaptations. But in truth, it could be one of the best versions ever.
Based on the influential novel of the same name by Charlotte Bronte published in England in the mid-19th century, Fukunaga’s Jane Eyre stars Mia Wasikowska in an extraordinary performance.
Very much a bleak love story (at least in the context of this film) set in a time of formality and restrain, Jane Eyre is a period piece costume drama that despite its slow pacing and abstract dialogue manages to be self-sustaining without going too far in indulging in theatrics.
Wasikowska plays the title role Jane who is righteous, moral, compassionate, and mature. She meets a man (her employer really) with a troubled past and feels attracted to him. His name is Edward Rochester (Michael Fassbender). Pain and conflict ensues when he unwillingly confesses a terrible secret to her.
Screenwriter Moira Buffini has a lot of material to cover, but the choice to focus on the love story and relegate Jane’s backstory to several flashbacks is still effective as it is inevitable. Like every other screen adaptation of a literature novel, it is impossible to shoot a picture without some form of expository condensation.
“I have known you, Mr. Rochester and it strikes me with anguish to be torn from you.”
Wasikowska’s Oscar-worthy performance is near flawless. She brings to her character a perpetual sense of psychological unease. Jane is a confident young lady, but moments of self-doubt and fear remain consistent blights in her understanding of the world she was brought into.
Fukunaga’s direction is as composed as the camera that beautifully captures the idyllic lifestyle of the film’s characters.
Yet, there seems to be a constant cast of gloom, brought about by dark skies, heavy rain, and claustrophobic corridors lit up by the eerie glows of candlelight, all of which builds up to a suspenseful mood that reflects the novel’s brooding quality.
There are some scenes that feel more at home in a Gothic-inspired horror film like The Others (2001) than an orthodox costume drama, at times putting viewers unnecessarily on edge.
For all of its supposed secret passion and forbidden love, Jane Eyre remains surprisingly tame in its portrayal of the Jane-Edward relationship, which not only fails to convince us of their unequivocal love for each other, but also seems curiously half-baked.
Fortunately, the redeeming factor that is Wasikowska’s singular heartbreaking performance, and the picturesque backdrop of which this tale is set ensure that the coldness of the romantic relationship does not dilute the quality of this quite excellent ‘Jane Eyre’ adaptation.