Jane Eyre

The latest retelling of the timeless classic from the 19th century has a lot in common with the blockbuster Twilight series.
Ronan Wright | Sep 26 2011 | comment  

Jane Eyre         
Directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga      
Starring Mia Wasikowska, Michael Fassbender, Jamie Bell, Judi Dench    
120 minutes

"I am no bird; and no net ensnares me; I am a free human being with an independent will.”

Based on the 1847 novel of the same name, the film stars Mia Wasikowska (Alice in Wonderland) as the self-reliant and conscientious Jane and Michael Fassbender (X Men: First Class) as the brooding and bedevilled Mr Rochester in this re-working of Charlotte Brontë’s timeless classic.

About 20 minutes into Jane Eyre I heard a loud and unmistakable snore from someone a few rows in front of us. I smiled and turning to my wife said, "That guy down the front is snoring!" Much to the amusement of me and my wife and everyone else in the rather intimate theatre, the man in front kept snoring loudly until his wife nudged him sharply in the ribs. He then awoke abruptly to the sound of giggling during a film which doesn't exactly lend itself to laughter. As it turned out, the man snoring down the front was actually an elderly woman, one of a small group who had evidently made a day of it.

Director Cary Fukunaga's "bold new vision" for Jane Eyre hoped to attract a new audience by emphasising the Gothic aspects of the story, using the supernatural and brooding tone of Moira Buffini's screenplay to create a moody atmosphere with a distinctly supernatural feel. "I’ve spent a lot of time re-reading the book and trying to feel out what Charlotte Brontë was feeling when she was writing it", Fukunaga said in a recent interview: "That sort of spookiness that plagues the entire story... there’s been something like 24 adaptations, and it’s very rare that you see those sorts of darker sides. They treat it like it’s just a period romance, and I think it’s much more than that".

One of the film's strengths is the pacing. Not too rushed but slow, steady and patient. As the tempo and intensity of the story quickens and the secret that haunts Thornfield Manor is revealed, the film maintains its rhythm. Built on the suspense created by the script, never allowing the exchanges to be rushed or to feel forced, the dialogue has a very natural feel to it. It draws you in so that you want to inhabit the scene with the characters, to lose yourself in the quietness of Thornfield's shadowy corners, to embrace the film's rich and textured austerity. The stillness of the moors and the difficulty of Jane's situation at Thornfield echoes the restlessness of her conscience as she struggles against her feelings to do the right thing. This tension within Jane and between herself and Rochester is almost tangible throughout.

"There's a temptation nowadays to want to sex things up", says Fukunaga, "to make it cutting edge and somehow be different just to be different. It's harder to be simple, it's much harder, much more challenging. In some of the longer dialogue scenes, the fireside chats, which are really the centrepiece of the story, I found myself doubting my original goal which was to be simple; 'just put the camera down and let these great actors do these scenes'. It almost didn't feel naturalistic just to sit still, our attention spans these days are so short, it's so hard just to let things be and that's what I wanted to do."

What makes Jane Eyre unique, Fukunaga says, is "...not only the strength of the protagonist, the heroine, and her convictions, but I think also the mixing of the genres and how well Charlotte Bronte did it. I guess Twilight has elements of it but I don't think anyone gets scared in Twilight". Actor Michael Fassbender, who portrays the role of Rochester in the film, also pointed to similarities between Brontë’s novel and the teenage pop-lit favourite the Twilight Saga, which undoubtedly struck a chord with the iPod generation, young ladies in particular.  "I've said before, maybe I'm wrong, the films like the Twilight Saga have the same sort of structure, a love that can never exist... women seem to go crazy for these sorts of things."

Taking in themes of morality, love, passion, religion, atonement and forgiveness and combining a refreshing new aesthetic with a dark and sinister mood, Jane Eyre is an emotionally refined period drama but it's also an unusual departure from the corsets-in-the-country genre.   

Ronan Wright blogs about films from Belfast at Filmplicity. 

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