I’ve finally seen the 2011 adaptation of Jane Eyre, starring Mia Wasikowska in the title role and Michael Fassbender as Rochester. Wasikowska is probably best known for her role as Alice in the 2010 Tim Burton movie Alice in Wonderland; Fassbender played Burke in the movie version of Jonah Hex, which I didn’t see, and I believe is going to be Magneto in the upcoming X-Men: First Class…I might have to see that, just to see how it turns out.
I’ll get my “it’s not the book!” whining over with first, then talk about what I liked.
I reread the book last May and posted on it extensively, thus I could tell the movie did excerpt some dialogue verbatim, or almost verbatim. However, overall the movie was very impressionistic, zigzagging back and forth through the book’s sequence, and focusing on certain key scenes. I suppose this was necessary, given that a feature film is really only about the length of a short story, not a large novel. I was still a little disappointed about that. Not sure what I was expecting!
The movie begins with Jane fleeing Thornfield, cuts to her alone on the moor, cuts to her discovering the Rivers household. There are flashes of Lowood and her childhood at Gateshead interspersed, a way of showing the depths of her despair, and some of where she has come from. I was easily able to follow, but am not sure how easy it would be if you had not read the book or been familiar with the progress of the story.
Though much condensed, the Jane/Edward scenes at Thornfield are shown in sequence, with only brief interruptions that flash forward to her time with the Rivers family. That sequence focuses on her relationship to St. John, and barely shows Mary and Diana Rivers. I know the likely reason was time, but the privileging of Jane’s relationships with men over those with women annoyed me somewhat. I’ve always thought Mary and Diana to be an extremely important part of the book, Charlotte’s thoughts on her own sisters and on family. From this movie, there’s no real hint of their character (not much of St. John, either, though he gets more screen time–his character only really comes to life in his final scene).
Back to Jane and Edward. Those were, I felt, the best parts of the movie, though I’m not sure how I would have liked this “greatest hits” version of their relationship if I hadn’t read and loved the novel. Judi Dench played Mrs. Fairfax, and of course was awesome, but I wondered, a little, if she had a little too much camera time just because she was so excellent and not because the film needed it. Or perhaps her excellence made it seem that way!
The costuming was terrific. My eye is only slightly educated about period dress, but it all looked appropriate to me. I loved, loved, loved that we got to see the underpinnings of dresses at least twice and Rochester in only his shirt at one point. (Check out this recent blog post by Susan Holloway Scott on an 18th century man’s shirt.) I was amused to note that the one time we see the rear of Rochester’s breeches, he’s leaning out a window, so they’re pulled snug. In an earlier scene with Jane’s male cousin, you can easily see how baggy the seat of the breeches is. (If I could remember where I learned about baggy breeches bottoms, I would link.) Finally, when Jane returns to Thornfield at the end, she had the best bonnet ever.
The overall impression I had of the film was that it was about enclosures, in direct contrast to the gorgeous outdoor shots of endless rolling moor and constant wind. Even aside from so many scenes taking place inside of houses (the plot can be divided into those different houses: Gateshead, Lowood, Thornfield, Jane’s cottage, etc.), the visual enclosures were so frequent they had to be intentional; they occur in both large and small scale.
When Jane first arrives at Lowood, she steps out of her nice gown; she’s enclosed beneath her wedding veil; later, after the abortive wedding to Edward, she unlaces herself with trembling hands and steps out of the gown, standing exposed in her underthings as she is emotionally exposed. When outdoors, she is repeatedly shown within walled gardens, even when she and Edward are first in love.
It isn’t until the end, at Ferndean, that they meet outdoors, with no walls in sight. To be nitpicky, that’s in contrast to the description in the novel: “…grass-grown track descending the forest aisle, between hoar and knotty shafts and under branches arches…all was interwoven stem, columnar tunk, dense, summer foliage–no opening anywhere.” But Jane emerges from that into the freedom of an honest relationship with her Edward.
I think this adaptation is totally worth seeing, if you can handle that it isn’t the book, and couldn’t be the book. It’s its own thing.