×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Jane Eyre

The candlelight flickers exquisitely even as the passions are slow to ignite in this spare, shrewdly acted but not especially vital retelling of "Jane Eyre."

With:
Jane Eyre - Mia Wasikowska
Rochester - Michael Fassbender
St. John Rivers - Jamie Bell
Mrs. Reed - Sally Hawkins
Mr. Brocklehurst - Simon McBurney
Bertha Mason - Valentina Cervi
Mrs. Fairfax - Judi Dench

The candlelight flickers exquisitely even as the passions are slow to ignite in this spare, shrewdly acted but not especially vital retelling of “Jane Eyre.” Favoring a darkly expressive visual approach that plays up the gothic extremity of Charlotte Bronte’s oft-filmed classic, helmer Cary Joji Fukunaga brings a temperament of steel to a stark, severe adaptation that provides only fleeting emotional and psychological access to its famous heroine. Michael Fassbender’s casting as one of cinema’s dreamier Rochesters may raise purist eyebrows but could also broaden Focus’ reach among younger women, certainly including but not limited to Bronte buffs.

From the 1944 Joan Fontaine-Orson Welles film to the 1996 version directed by Franco Zeffirelli, nearly every feature-length “Jane Eyre” has had to wrestle with the challenge of condensing Bronte’s episodic narrative, a task more easily managed by five-hour-plus adaptations such as the beloved 1983 miniseries. In an unusual gambit, scribe Moira Buffini (“Tamara Drewe”) shuffles the chronology with a simple, elegant framing device: Rather than detailing Jane’s cruel Victorian orphanhood, the opening scenes are marked by a sense of tragic inevitability as the older Jane (Mia Wasikowska) is seen fleeing Thornfield Hall, into a quintessentially Brontean landscape of wild moors and sodden English weather.

Jane is taken in by missionary St. John Rivers (Jamie Bell) and his two sisters (Holliday Grainger, Tamzin Merchant), whose introduction early on underscores the absence of family that is Miss Eyre’s most wounding privation. This makes for an intuitive segue into her early years as a spirited child (Amelia Clarkson) brutally mistreated by her aunt (Sally Hawkins), who soon packs her off to a parochial hellhole to suffer the abuses of a self-righteous headmaster (Simon McBurney).

Though Fukunaga was hardly an orthodox choice to direct a period costumer after “Sin nombre” — his 2009 debut about Central American immigrants — his hand can be discerned in the film’s unusually blunt, visceral dramatization of Jane’s ordeals, such as an abrupt cut to the lash of a cane against the girl’s back. And whereas past adaptations have relied on voiceover as a substitute for Jane’s first-person narration, Fukunaga avoids such exposition with a bold insistence on image-driven storytelling.

There’s a bit of “The Turn of the Screw” in this “Jane Eyre”: When Jane is installed as a governess at Thornfield and received by Judi Dench’s benign, faintly reproving housekeeper, the house is cloaked in the sort of impenetrable shadows that might have been lensed by Gordon Willis. Disquieting later passages — from Jane’s first meeting with the surly, mysterious Rochester (Fassbender) to her growing awareness of some malevolent, unseen presence — are shot with the shivery atmospherics of a horror picture.

The subtle visual inflections and deliberately constricted performances contribute to a slow-burn effect that compels up to a point. The attraction between Jane and Rochester initially remains at a barely perceptible simmer, as Wasikowska and Fassbender bring an icy, combative edge to their scenes that doesn’t melt until the last possible moment. But melt it does, as both actors credibly and movingly reveal emotions their characters scarcely have the ability to acknowledge.

At this point, however, the narrative machinery of Bronte’s tale dutifully clicks in, and even the script’s structural tweaks can’t ward off the perfunctory feel inherent in the preponderance of third-act revelations. The camera’s restless pans across the rugged countryside, set to the increasingly high-strung violins of Dario Marianelli’s score, begin to smack of stylistic desperation, as the film becomes content to observe its heroine’s actions without penetrating her consciousness. These problems are hardly unique to this “Jane Eyre,” which affords a few piercing moments by dint of its performances but never threatens to sweep the viewer away.

After her decisive breakthrough last year in “The Kids Are All Right” and “Alice in Wonderland,” Australian thesp Wasikowska again impresses. Looking glum and dowdy, her pale, spectral beauty peeking out only intermittently from behind a hard, pinched countenance, the actress carries the burden of Jane’s suffering in every frame, conveying her broken spirit but also her fiercely honest and independent nature.

Some may deem Fassbender too handsome for a man described in the book as decidedly unattractive, but the protean Irish thesp evinces a reptilian quality that repels and fascinates, keeping one guessing as to what this belligerent, elusive and clearly tormented figure feels or doesn’t feel for Jane. If Fassbender looks younger than other Rochesters, the crucial age gap is delicately sustained by the fact that Wasikowska looks younger than other Janes.

Lensed in somber, muted tones by Adriano Goldman, the picture is handsomely appointed in all respects, particularly by production designer Will Hughes-Jones and costume designer Michael O’Connor. Sound design is exceptionally crisp.

Jane Eyre

U.K.

Production: A Focus Features (worldwide) release presented in association with BBC Films of a Ruby Films production. Produced by Alison Owen, Paul Trijbits. Executive producers, Christine Langan, Peter Hampden. Co-producers, Mairi Bett, Faye Ward. Directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga. Screenplay, Moira Buffini, based on the novel by Charlotte Bronte.

Crew: Camera (Deluxe color), Adriano Goldman; editor, Melanie Ann Oliver; music, Dario Marianelli; production designer, Will Hughes-Jones; art director, Karl Probert; set decorator, Tina Jones; costume designer, Michael O'Connor; sound (DTS/Dolby Digital), Peter Lindsay; supervising sound editors, Matthew Collinge, Catherine Hodgson; re-recording mixer, Robert Farr; visual effects supervisor, Sean Farrow; visual effects, Bluebolt, Modus; associate producer, Hannah Farrell; assistant director, Lee Grumett; casting, Nina Gold. Reviewed at Sunset screening room, West Hollywood, Feb. 23, 2011. MPAA Rating: PG-13. Running time: 118 MIN.

With: Jane Eyre - Mia Wasikowska
Rochester - Michael Fassbender
St. John Rivers - Jamie Bell
Mrs. Reed - Sally Hawkins
Mr. Brocklehurst - Simon McBurney
Bertha Mason - Valentina Cervi
Mrs. Fairfax - Judi DenchWith: Holliday Grainger, Tamzin Merchant. (English, French dialogue)

More Film

  • Chris Hemsworth (H) with Em (Tessa

    China Box Office: ‘Men In Black’ Makes $26 Million Debut, ‘Phoenix’ Falls

    “Men In Black: International” made a lukewarm start in Chinese theaters. It scored $25.8 million over the weekend, according to data from Artisan Gateway, to claim top spot ahead of Chinese-made “My Best Summer.” The Chinese gross of the “Men in Black” spinoff was not that far short of the film’s North American debut, which [...]

  • Yao Chen

    Xiamen Woos Film Industry, Becomes New Home of Golden Rooster Festival

    China’s government-led Golden Rooster and Hundred Flowers Film Festival has found a permanent home in Fujian province’s coastal city of Xiamen, starting from this year, municipal representatives said Monday at a Shanghai Intl. Film Festival press conference. “Xiamen has the confidence and the perseverance to be up to the task,” said Dai Zhiwang, the assistant [...]

  • TheReturn press launch at Shanghai Film

    Qin Hailu's 'The Return' Makes Emotional Debut at Shanghai Festival

    “This is the final film that seals my acting career,” said 95-year-old Chinese actor Chang Feng, of “The Return,” which plays this week in competition at the Shanghai International Film Festival. “The director, the screenwriter, and the entire crew have put so much heart into this film, I hope it wins the award.” The film [...]

  • Dami Im and Bong Joon-Ho'Parasite' premiere,

    ‘Parasite’ Wins Sydney Film Festival

    “Parasite,” the South Korean black drama that previously won the Palme d’Or at Cannes, was Sunday named as the winner of the Sydney Film Festival. After collecting a cash prize of A$60,000 ($41,200), at Sydney’s State Theatre, “Parasite” director said: “This Festival is really amazing, especially the audience…really special and extraordinary. This is the most [...]

  • China Film Group's Jiang Ping

    Shanghai: China Studio Chiefs Debate Winter Chills and U.S. Rivalry

    The Shanghai International Film Festival pulled off the impressive feat of assembling leading executives from seven of China’s top film studios. Their discussion focused on the problems that have recently beset the production sector and the industry’s relationship with Hollywood. “The film industry achieved great things in 2018, but it was also the year that [...]

  • Chinese President Xi Jinping claps while

    Propaganda Films to Dominate Chinese Theaters in Anniversary Year

    A presentation at the Shanghai International Film Festival on Sunday shed light on the welter of propaganda films that will compete with Hollywood blockbusters for the attention of Chinese cinema goers in the second half of this year. This year is laden with political significance for China’s ruling Communist Party. It is 100 years since [...]

  • Leung Chiu-wai

    Tony Leung to Star in Shanghai Film Group's 'Fox Hunt' Police Action Film

    Hong Kong’s Tony Leung Chiu-wai and mainland China’s Duan Yihong will head the cast of the Shanghai Film Group’s upcoming “Fox Hunt.” The film is based on real live events and depicts the activities of Operation Fox Hunt, a worldwide anti-corruption initiative managed by China’s Ministry of Public Security. The operation seeks to find and [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content