This is the umpteenth version of Charlotte Bronte’s classic 1847 novel about a plain, obscure and poor orphan girl who lands a job as a governess and eventually captures the heart of her mysterious employer. The most famous version of this story is arguably the 1943 production starring Orson Welles and Joan Fontaine. This 22nd version of the timeless Gothic romance is a visually sumptuous and handsomely mounted production, but it is also quite bland and dull.
When the film opens, Jane (Mia Wasikowska) is stumbling across the windswept moors, and ends up at the home of novice pastor St John Rivers (Jamie Bell, of Billy Elliot fame). He nurses her back to health. Through a series of extended flashbacks we get Jane’s story. Orphaned she was raised by her imperious aunt (Sally Hawkins), until she was sent to the local boarding house. Always strong of mind, independent and wilful Jane finds herself in trouble. Eventually she lands a position as governor at Thornfield Hall, where she encounters the mysterious master of the manor Mr Rochester (Michael Fassbender, from Hunger, etc).
Having previously played Alice in Tim Burton’s visually bold version of Alice In Wonderland, Australian actress Wasikowska seems to be the current go to girl for playing virginal heroines of English literature. And she delivers a nicely nuanced performance in a role that has previously been played by the likes of Joan Fontaine, Charlotte Gainsbourg and the late Susannah York.
Fassbender (from the recent X-Men First Class, etc) makes for a handsome Mr Rochester, but his performance is fairly perfunctory. There is a lack of passion and fire between the two leads, which also holds the film back. Judi Dench brings her usual class to her performance as Mrs Fairfax, the kindly housekeeper.
The screenplay from Moira Buffini (the recent Tamara Drewe) is surprisingly atmospheric and literate, and she has pared the novel back to the basic essentials. However, a mini-series is probably the only way in which to fully explore the novel, its complex characters and rich themes, and do justice to Bronte’s vision.
Some stilted and rather pedestrian direction from Cary Fukunaga (the excellent Mexican drama Sin Nombre, etc) doesn’t allow the audience to fully engage with the story. However, technical contributions are excellent. Adriano Goldman’s gorgeous cinematography brings to life the inhospitable moors, and brings a foreboding atmosphere to Rochester’s imposing, brooding home. Will Hughes-Jones’s production design is stunning and rich in period detail, while Michael O’Connor’s costumes lend further authenticity.
While it may beautiful to look at, this new version of Jane Eyre fails to generate much excitement or passion.