If you go to IMDB and search “Jane Eyre” you will find upwards of 20 results to your query. The Charlotte Brontë romance novel has been adapted a staggering number of times on both the big screen and the small screen. Though what’s even more astounding, is that Cary Fukunaga, the director of 2011’s “Jane Eyre,” thinks we’ll see yet another version in a couple of years.
Why would the entertainment industry continue to redo this story? To rationalize it, Fukunaga compares “Jane Eyre” to Shakespeare, “It’s the same question of why we do anything again with movies and plays. Shakespeare is repeated around the world in different languages, just because it’s good storytelling. At this point it’s a classic.”
When filmmakers decide to remake classic tales like “Jane Eyre,” they generally keep to the same essential source material, but they differentiate themselves through their focus, their choice of setting, or by the actors that they select to play the iconic roles. Fukunaga’s version concentrates on issues of class in 19th century English society through the use of talented actors in the lead parts.
The movie follows its title character Jane Eyre (Mia Wasikowska), a young woman who is orphaned at an early age. As a result Jane is forced to live with her aunt Mrs. Reed, a spiteful woman with disdain for her niece. Unwilling to raise Jane herself, Mrs. Reed callously ships Jane off to boarding school, where conditions are bleak and the harsh schoolmasters dole out corporal punishment liberally.
Fukunaga does not linger that long on this period, showing us flashbacks to Jane’s childhood, before moving on to Jane’s release and her appointment as schoolteacher at a wealthy home in the country. It is here in the employment of Mr. Rochester (Michael Fassbender), that Jane finally finds a comfortable place to live. Once Rochester meets Jane, he seems immediately taken by her shy nature, her sharp wit, and the apparent frankness with which she speaks.
The two develop a close friendship as the romantic tensions between them build with each passing day. Jane struggles with her feelings for Rochester because of their differences in social standing. As someone from a common background, she is led to believe by society that she is unworthy of Rochester’s affections. She also comes to suspect that he has secrets that he is hiding, which further vexes her.
Performances from Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender are nuanced and complex, showing the audience two very complicated characters. Wasikowska’s Jane has admirable intelligence and honesty, however what’s more impressive is the subtlety she uses to reveal Jane’s issues with intimacy. Michael Fassbender’s portrayal of Mr. Rochester is very raw, riding a delicate line between a man who’s dangerous yet also careful and loving. Collectively, they do a fantastic job of building romantic tension so that you become emotionally invested, and you’re actually happy when they give in to their desires.
Much like in his original film “Sin Nombre,” Cary Fukunaga places a heavy emphasis on class distinctions and the role that they place in this love story. He accomplishes this through his painstaking attention to details of the period, combined with a script that makes clever wordplay out of the tête- à-tête between Rochester and Jane. His style of shooting by candlelight also lends authenticity to the period, while aiding in his focus on the darker aspects of Brontë’s novel. Really the film’s only detracting points are its slow pacing and its exactly two hour runtime, which make this a difficult movie to watch in the middle of the day. Overall though, “Jane Eyre” is a solid period piece.