By Gary Murray
Starring Mia Wasikowska, Michael Fassbender and Jamie Bell
Written by Moira Buffni
Based on the novel by Charlotte Bronte
Directed by Cary Fukunaga
Running time 115 min
MPAA Rating PG-13
Selig Film Rating Cable
Jane Eyre is one of those books that high school students are made to read. The Bronte story has been analyzed time and time again by youngsters trying to figure out symbolism and substance while struggling over language. It has also been made into at least five different filmed versions. The latest is by Cary Fukunaga.
The story starts with a young woman (Mia Wasikowska) escaping through the moors and away from Thornfield Hall. She is found by a family of servants, two women and a young man St John Rivers (Jamie Bell). They feed her and help get her a job at the local school.
Then we go back to the beginning. Jane Eyre is a girl who has been orphaned and left with her relation (Sally Hawkins). When Jane stands-up for herself, she is sent away to boarding school and banned to stay on holidays. Soon, she is shunned but still makes a single friend.
After the adventures in school, our young adult Jane (Mia Wasikowska) lands a position as Governess at Thornfield Hall. Jane is to teach a young French girl Adele (Romy Settbon Moore). Her father is always away on business and Jane finds comfort with the head housekeeper Mrs. Fairbanks (Judi Dench). One day the master of the house Mr. Rochester (Michael Fassbender) comes home. He is smitten by Jane, who never backs down in presenting her opinions.
The story of Jane Eyre is of her falling for a man above her stature. What starts out as friendship blooms into something more. It is also about a dark secret in Thornfield Hall and the romance between Rochester and a lady of bearing and wealth. The triangle of love between the star-crossed drives the movie.
The only part of Jane Eyre I enjoyed was the performance of Mia Wasikowska. She captures the mousey innocence of the role while keeping the strong backbone of the character. Her wide-eyed portrayal lends itself to the material and she is believable in the period piece.
The same cannot be said for our two male leads. Jamie Bell is a solid actor and brings his A-game to even mediocre flicks. Here, his role seems little more than an overblown cameo. He is in and out of the movie so fast that one wonders how he received such a high billing. When the big finish happens with his character, it is as unexpected as it is forced. Michael Fassbender has the same problems with his character. No one believes the turn of his Rochester and the performance comes of as phony. One never truly understands the attraction between any of the leads; it all comes across as weak.
The supporting women in Jane Eyre fair much better. Judi Dench is spot-on wonderful as Mrs. Fairbanks, the stern taskmaster of the house. She is much wiser than she lets on and tries to be the mother figure of Jane, warning her of the evils of rich men. With so little to do, Sally Hawkins part could have been given to a much less accomplished actress. But in her frail hands, she delivers some emotional punches and abject sorrows.
There are some major problems with Jane Eyre, all falling on the shoulder of director Cary Fukunaga. He never finds the romance between Jane and Rochester. There is no passion with glances, no steamy desire. When the two touch, there should be some electricity instead of the dull thud delivered. The other problem with Jane Eyre is that it looks horrible. The lighting is flat and the colors dull. We get no sense of warmth in the background and it affects the characters in the foreground. One wonders just how such a flat flick could have been approved.
This version of Jane Eyre will never stand head and shoulders above the rest. Arguably, the best version is the 1944 adaptation with Joan Fontaine and Orson Welles. But if this version helps kids discover the novel, then it is worth the task.