Jane Eyre has been my absolute favorite book since I was eight years old. I first read the Young Readers Digest condensed version in a green volume at my grandma’s house, where its pages were stuffed between Captain Horatio Hornblower, My Friend Flicka, and Alone. (None of which I have ever read.) I remember being instantly drawn in to the book; I remember Edward Rochester as the first and only book crush I have ever had (he is the ONLY fictional Edward worth loving in today’s culture, if I may say); I remember wanting to be Jane Eyre.
The first movie version I watched was the 1997 version with Ciaran Hinds and Samantha Morton, which I loved. It is not, perhaps, the best version of them all, but I found the characters to be perfectly adequate and since I loved the book so much, I was willing to forgive its faults. That version still holds a special place in my heart, and my love for both of those actors has, I believe, stemmed from them being my beloved Jane and Rochester.
Since then, I have watched all of the versions of Jane Eyre that I’ve been able to get my hands on from libraries, friends, stores, and YouTube. I’ve seen everything from the early Orson Welles version to, of course, this newest incarnation with Michael Fassbender and Mia Wasikowska. I own three versions of the movie (Ciaran Hinds in 1994, Toby Smith and Ruth Wilson in 2006 — the BEST version, I might add– and this newest version which, thankfully, I bought for $10 in a four-for-one pack), and so far have three editions of the book (the Young Readers Digest version, a brand-spanking-new leather-bound version, and a beautiful wood-cut illustrated version from 1943 that is, I admit, one of my most prized possessions.)
However, despite my adoration for the book, I don’t tend to judge the movies based on how closely they adhere to the events laid within its pages. Rather, I judge and enjoy the movies based on how well they portray the characters. They can change many things about the story in order to eke whatever entertainment out of it they want, so long as Rochester and Jane still have the essence of what makes their love story so great.
Before you read this review, please keep in mind that I am not trying to bash the movie or the actors. It’s not meant to be a scathing review, just an honest one. If you disagree, please do so respectfully as I do know that others may have enjoyed the movie much more than I did, and that is perfectly okay. This is simply my honest opinion given my history with the story and my adoration for its characters.
So, with that in mind, how did this newest Jane Eyre hold up in my esteem?
Well. If I could only give you three words, they would be: lifeless, sad, and boring.
Without a doubt, the 2011 version of Jane Eyre is, in my opinion, the worst version I have ever seen. And I have seen many, many versions of Jane Eyre.
I apologize if you have seen and loved the Fassbender/Wasikowska version of Eyre, but I assume then that you haven’t read the book or seen other versions and I implore you to first read the story, and then watch the 2006 version. And tell me how you feel after that.
Jane and Mr. Rochester are like two stormy days; the former a drizzly, pensive day that one pays little attention to until it rains with passion, the latter thunderous and darkly cloudy, sliding on into a tempestuous evening without stop. They are drawn to each other magnetically, irresistibly, with something more than physical desire. They are like minded, both strong and opinionated characters with a powerful love that transcends appearances and delves deep into their souls.
This movie had none of that.
The Jane Eyre of the book is outwardly calm and composed from years of living in Lowood School, but at the same time is witty, opinionated, moral, and passionate. The Jane Eyre as portrayed by Mia is lifeless, dull, meek, and so very bland. This has nothing to do with her physicality; I think Mia is quite pretty in real life, and perfectly suited, physically, to the Jane Eyre of the book as she has a plainness that can be brought out with the right hair and lack of makeup. But to be honest, I think Mia as an actress has very little personality. I loved Alice in Wonderland and I think she was finely suited to that role, but she lacks a certain vigor in her performances, and it sorely hurt Jane Eyre.
I think that Michael Fassbender might have had a chance to be a good Mr. Rochester, on two conditions: one, that they extended the movie to include much, much more of Jane and Rochester’s story, and two… find a different Jane. Mia and Michael had absolutely no chemistry whatsoever. Their scenes felt as though they barely wanted to be in the same room. Jane seemed to have little interest in Rochester until she saved him from a burning bed, and only then because he seemed as though he might kiss her, after which she briefly leaned against her own door with a barely-dreamy look that could have belonged to a schoolgirl contemplating a new crush.
In the book, Jane and Rochester converse with a bluntness, wit, and honesty that borders on facetiousness at times, intimacy at others, and have such a strength in their need for each other that you can feel it rising from the page. When they are parted by various schemes, it is accompanied by a brooding temper on Rochester’s part or quiet devastation in Jane.
In the movie,their conversations are bored, and the few times they are parted is accompanied by something of an indifference. The only time Jane seems moved to any real emotion is when she is forced to wander the moors after the big reveal in which it’s found that Rochester is married.
I won’t go much into my other irks except to say that I think they miscast the entire movie. Judy Dench, an actress who I admire and love greatly, is not in the least a motherly, lovably witless woman, and Mrs. Fairfax of the book definitely is. Jaime Bell, while attractive in his own unique way, is not suited to St. John, who is described as being very Greek in look, handsome, with a straight nose and a well-cut mouth. Even Adele, who it would seem would be easy enough to cast, was ill-suited to the role. In the book she is frivolous and giddy, and Mr. Rochester treats her somewhat as a loved but annoying pet, with a gentleness even when he is insulting her. In the movie, she is meek and quiet as Jane, and Rochester seems to despise her entirely.
Fassbender was the only character who, even though I found his performance lacking the strength, passion, and tortured worldliness of Rochester, might have been okay. He did not in any way redeem the movie, but I think with a different actress as Jane, he might have come out higher on my list of Rochesters to like. But in this movie, with that Jane, he was almost as boring as Mia.
I will say in credit to the movie that I loved the music and the look of the film, and finally someone made Blanche Ingram with dark hair as she has in the book.
But overall, I think it was damaged by many things. Their attempt to begin it with Jane’s lostness, the uninteresting introductory scenes — a choppy beginng that jumped between the St. John scenes, her childhood, Lowood School, and the life at Thornfield– , and that it was much too short to really tell such a great story. They seemed to have been forced to eliminate every beautiful line the book has, and preserved only the most necessary elements to move the film forward in what they deemed an acceptable time frame.
I am quite sad to give any version of Jane Eyre such a terrible review, but such is life. I will not recommend it to anyone, and I’m very glad that I didn’t purchase it on its own. At least the other versions, no matter how little they followed the story, had chemistry between Rochester and Jane and understood that “quiet and composed” in Jane’s case did not mean “suppressed and lacking personality.”
On to what I am wearing! I wanted to evoke what a somewhat more modern Jane Eyre might wear. Something simple, modest, without too much color, and practical. I felt that wearing a green skirt was fitting, as in the book Jane’s evening dress is a simple dark green silk that no one has EVER done in any of the movies. She would, of course, wear something high-necked and long-skirted to preserve modesty, and I like to think that though Jane was plain and simple, she would have been quietly stylish.
She would have styled her hair simply and easily, and worn very little makeup (if any)– only as much as is needed to make herself presentable.
This is the only skirt I have of my woolen beauties that actually fits me right now, being pregnant and all. I’m going to miss those skirts this winter! But with some luck, perhaps I’ll find others that fit my growing belly.
So tell me, have you seen the most recent Jane Eyre? What did you think? Have you watched other versions, or read the book? I would highly recommend the 2006 version (I’ve said this many times) because it really embodies the characters just as I had always imagined them from the book AND follows the story almost perfectly. Even St. John, who is always an absolute stone of biting morality in most versions, is moral and cold, but still understandable and human. Its one flaw is that Rochester and Jane are, while not movie-star dazzling, probably a tad more handsome and pretty than described in the book. But that really doesn’t matter.
I hope you all have a beautiful Thursday! I will be out of town this weekend to see one of my best friends get married. I’m so excited!
Also exciting: I got a new laptop! It’s just… amazing. But that’s a story for another blog.