Review: Jane Eyre (2011)

Jane Eyre (2011)

Directed by: Cary Fukunaga | 118 minutes | drama, romance | Actors: Mia Wasikowska, Michael Fassbender, Judi Dench, Sally Hawkins, Jamie Bell, Su Elliot, Holliday Grainger, Tamzin Merchant, Amelia Clarkson, Craig Roberts, Lizzie Hopley, Jayne Wisener, Freya Wilson, Emily Haigh, Simon McBurney, Sandy McDade, Freya Parks

This film adaptation of Charlotte Brontë’s famous novel starts off stormy, literally and figuratively. ‘Jane Eyre’ opens with a young woman wandering through a savage storm, of whom the viewer can quickly guess that it is the title character (played by Mia Wasikowska).

Viewers familiar with the original novel will already know that a lot of work has been done to the structure of the story: the novel itself is strictly chronological and therefore begins with Jane’s childhood. The film goes back to that after a few scenes and shows a childhood that can only be characterized as miserable. Jane’s parents have passed away, leaving the orphaned child to be raised by an aunt, Mrs. Reed (an unrecognizable Sally Hawkins), who wouldn’t look out of place in Cinderella’s tale in wickedness. After being tormented by her cousin’s puss, she is sent to a girls’ boarding school. They will rigorously prune the wretched little plant, as they typify Jane. Anyone who thinks that the contemporaries David Copperfield and Oliver Twist in the work of Charles Dickens had a miserable childhood is probably forgetting that it was perhaps worse for a girl in that position: in the ghastly, God-fearing school no expense is spared to to keep the girls in the tight straitjacket. After all, that is the best method of obtaining a wealthy husband, the explicit aim of the entire education.

After school, Jane is allowed to work as a teacher at the Thornfield mansion, where she is allowed to teach a young French girl; Jane speaks a word of French. In the secluded house she can count on little social interaction, except for that of housekeeper Mrs. Fairfax (the inevitable Judi Dench) and the sporadic landlord Rochester. This slightly troubled but not unattractive man (the inevitable Michael Fassbender), who unpredictably alternates moments of passion and subtle intellect, could also use a conversation partner and sees in the intelligent Jane a more fascinating sparring partner than in the rest of those present. .

Jane and Rochester do have something in common. Both are looking for a way out of the social constraints that surround them, not least vis-à-vis the opposite sex. This quickly leads to closely veiled sexual tension between the two. That’s not the only tension in Thornfield, though: Jane hears strange noises and voices, isn’t allowed to go on the top floor and hears Rochester refer several times to his dark, sinful past. These mysterious elements sometimes lead to almost horror-like sequences, which would hardly have been out of place in films like ‘The Hours’ or ‘Sleepy Hollow’; Stanley Kubrick’s ‘The Shining’ is even mentioned as an influence by the makers.

Gradually, this accumulated momentum comes to erupt. The film is captivating on several levels, not only because of the struggle of the two main characters against the social (and dogmatic-religious) shackles by which they are fascinated, but also because of the way in which they develop into full-fledged characters, people of flesh and blood. , with virtues and weaknesses. You can taste everything that a great novel is interpreted in all its facets here, not in the least through the striking, quite literally copied dialogues. It’s amazing how with a few adjustments the film gains a lot of momentum and dynamism while still honoring the thematic versatility of the source material. Hundreds of pages of text are translated to the screen very efficiently in 118 minutes here; it’s amazing how sometimes a certain emotion is evoked in a flash of a second.

This is beautifully portrayed too, with icy blues in the boarding school, breathtaking, intimidating landscapes and wonderful use of light and dark in the corridors and rooms at Thornfield. The music is beautiful, but is perhaps very present; the creators shouldn’t have worried that it wouldn’t be compelling enough otherwise. The acting is also excellent: Dench still excels in such supporting roles in her sleep, and Wasikowska and Fassbender make a good pair of lead actors. Young Wasikowska plays the title character with just the right balance between a dull, gray mouse and strong-willed, intelligent proto-feminist; Fassbender has since become a specialist in roles of charismatic, sexy men with a dark edge.

‘Jane Eyre’ does not try to reinvent the cinematic wheel, but leaves plenty of room for the classic story to come to the fore, apart from some subtle artistic choices. That’s a good choice: in the end ‘Jane Eyre’ has become an all-encompassing epic in which you as a viewer can only let yourself be carried away. All things considered, this film is recommended without reservation.

At the 2011 Venice Film Festival, a novel adaptation by Charlotte’s sister Emily Brontë, ‘Wuthering Heights’, premiered. After this adaptation of ‘Jane Eyre’ one can only look forward to that film with confidence.

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