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madamedeficit ([personal profile] madamedeficit) wrote2011-09-25 10:47 pm
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Jane Eyre

As an enthusiast of the original novel, I was never going to love the new film version of Jane Eyre; that much was inevitable. The 2006 BBC miniseries had come close to satisfying me. Toby Stephens almost perfectly embodies my image of Edward Fairfax Rochester, and although I didn't feel Ruth Wilson was perfectly suited to the role of Jane, she acted the part sufficiently well to please me.

From the moment I saw the trailer for the 2011 film version of Brontë’s novel, I was determined to dislike it. 'Mia Wasikowska as Jane?!', I exclaimed to my boyfriend, 'But she's PRETTY!' Before creating Jane’s character, Charlotte Brontë promised her sisters, ‘I will show you a heroine as plain and as small as myself, who shall be as interesting as any of yours', and she certainly succeeded in doing so. I was convinced a physically appealing actress could not possibly portray 'poor, plain, obscure and little' Jane as we knew and loved her. Similarly, while Michael Fassbender is a phenomenal actor, I worried he missed the roughness of Brontë's antihero, who I had fallen very deeply in love with as a teenager.

Nonetheless, I felt obliged to go and see the film, and, for the most part, I was pleasantly surprised. Although I am not entirely convinced by Wasikowska's appearance, her good looks are adequately concealed under plain makeup and clothing for audiences to suspend their disbelief. While Fassbender could never replace Stephens in my heart as Rochester, he looks the part and delivers rude one-liners with ease and likeability. The script is, for the most part, loyal to Brontë's novel. Having written my undergraduate dissertation on Jane Eyre, it would be all too easy for me to nitpick faults and inaccuracies from my academic high horse, but I understand that some changes were necessary in order to appeal to modern audiences. Aesthetically, the film is nothing short of breathtaking.

Regardless, there remain some glaring faults with the film I found it impossible to overlook.

Although Jane’s character is by no means badly acted, Wasikowska lacks the passionate spirit and inner fire of Brontë’s original character. Wasikowska’s delivery of Jane’s famous accusatory speech (‘I tell you I must go! Do you think I can stay to become nothing to you? Do you think I am an automaton?-a machine without feelings?...’) simply falls flat, lacking the emotional impact of Ruth Wilson’s earlier portrayal.

While some alterations to the plot are easy to overlook, the choice to cut the novel’s ending short, removing the wedding, seems to me a perilous error. Jane’s choice to return to Thornfield as Rochester’s wife, and not as his mistress, is vital to our understanding of Jane’s character, and to the novel as a whole. Additionally, the Rochester that Jane returns to in the film is not the ‘mutilated’ creature of Brontë’s novel, but rather, a sightless and bearded version of his earlier self, leaving the end scene somewhat lacking in impact.

All in all, the 2011 film version of Jane Eyre is engrossing, wonderfully shot and well-written, and should encourage cinema-goers to read Brontë’s novel, which is the best result one could hope for, though I suspect the 2006 miniseries may remain the preference of the book-lover and scholar.