Wednesday, April 18, 2012

A Classic Novel In A Fair Adaptation: Jane Eyre

The Good: Good acting, Decent character work, Direction
The Bad: Problematic novel to bring to the screen
The Basics: Well directed and acted makes this version of Jane Eyre worthy of your attention.

Jane Eyre, the novel by Charlotte Bronte (reviewed here!), is one of the classics of English literature. If you haven't read it yet, you should. Everybody always says that about stuff, but Jane Eyre truly is worth it. The novel is pretty much the standard 19th Century British Romance Literature, so by reading it you have a fair shot of being able to b.s. the answers to any questions about the plot of any Bronte or Jane Austen novel. Sweet for you students!

Jane Eyre follows Jane Eyre, an orphan who is sent to boarding school and survives a pretty lethal virus that kills off some of her classmates. Older and more learned now, Jane graduates from her position at the school to become a governess (read: teacher/babysitter) for a rich man's children. Jane and Rochester, her employer, have good chemistry until they are about to married and Jane (and most everyone else around her) learns that Rochester is already married, to an insane pyromaniac he has stored away in the attic.

I kid you not, that is the story. Those repressed 19th Century women sure knew a good story when they wrote it!

For those who know the novel, this is an excellent and overall satisfying adaptation of Jane Eyre. However, as those who have read the novel know, this is an exceptionally difficult novel to bring to screen and as it is told in three parts, usually one of the three parts is condensed or outright sacrificed for a movie. Here, the schooling of Jane (standard part 1) and the Rochester phase (standard part 2) are left remarkably intact (a tribute to director Franco Zeffirelli) while the St. John Rivers (standard part 3) is just about entirely gutted. Zeffirelli keeps the story interesting and vital by focusing the movie on the part of the novel where the most actually happens and he pulls it off quite well.

Like most of Zeffirelli's films, this production of Jane Eyre looks great and the actors and actresses are all expertly cast. Zeffirelli has an eye for people and talent and his editorial decisions regarding the story make it flow and work out in a way that most novel adaptations fail to.

William Hurt is magnificent as Rochester, despite the poor make-up on his sideburns in his early scenes in the movie. Hurt plays aloof and solid very well, the core of Rochester translated from the book perfectly through his performance. But even outside the context of the novel, Hurt's performance makes Rochester into a real and vital character who the audience quickly becomes invested in.

Similarly, Jane is well portrayed by the talented Anna Paquin (for her younger years) and for the bulk of the film by Charlotte Gainsbourg. I had not seen Gainsbourg (to my knowledge) in anything before this, but I am impressed enough that I want to look up other things she might have been in. Why? Playing a period character like Jane is quite difficult in that most actresses are either too bland (like Naiomi Watts in Dangerous Beauty) or too flamboyant and modern (Julie Benz as Darla on Angel was the most immediate example I could come up with). Gainsbourg is both subtle and interesting, using a wealth of body language to work with her demure tones to create a character who is interesting to watch. She has presence without feeling like she is overbearing the viewer with her presence.

So, what can someone who is not a fan of classics of British literature find to enjoy in this movie? It's a good story. It is a romance with a man, a woman and a woman who sets things on fire. The clever way it is presented will engage a viewer because long before the upstairs woman is revealed, there are odd things that Jane notices going on around the mansion. It is easy to get invested in these characters and that makes it fun to watch.

For other works with William Hurt, please check out my reviews of:
The Incredible Hulk
A History Of Violence
Changing Lanes
A.I.: Artificial Intelligence
Dark City


For other film reviews, please check out my Movie Review Index Page for an organized listing of all the movies I have reviewed!

© 2012, 2004 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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