Sunday, January 01, 2012

Sunday Salon: Watching Jane

Have you seen the adaptation of Jane Eyre starring Orson Welles and Joan Fontaine? If you have, what did you think of it? Not only as an adaptation. But as a movie. I think it is important to distinguish between the two: you can have an entertaining movie that is charming and delightful but isn't all that faithful in the details of the original novel.

I liked this movie. I did. I really liked it. Is it a faithful adaptation of Charlotte Bronte's novel? Not exactly. It is an interpretation of the story, changes have been made for better or worse.

For example, Mr. Brocklehurst's role has been emphasized. And his villainy can't be missed. Not just in announcing Jane Eyre a liar. Not just as a strict disciplinarian. There's a scene in the movie where Helen Burns' hair is cut because it is curly--naturally curly. Brocklehurst feels that curly hair would encourage vanity--not only in Helen but in the other girls. To 'save her soul' it must be cut. Jane protests. And the result is Helen and Jane being forced to walk around outside in the rain carrying signs that say vain and rebellious. Helen becomes deathly ill as a result of her punishment. Mr. Brocklehurst's villainy was not balanced out by the presence of a kind teacher, Miss Maria Temple. The movie eliminates her role in Jane's life. Instead Brocklehurst's cruelty is balanced out by the fair judgment and tender kindness of a Dr. Rivers. (He's played by John Sutton.) (Mr. Brocklehurst video.)

I was tempted to call this adaptation of Jane Eyre natural. But that would take some explanation! Especially if you've seen it. You know that some of the scenes are OVER-THE-TOP dramatic, nothing natural to them. (I'm thinking especially of when Mr. Rochester is repeatedly telling Jane to say that she will marry him.)

So when the film isn't being super-dramatic, when it's not emphasizing the gothic, I feel there is something natural to the film. In its pacing. In its dialogue. In its character development. In its romance. The film is only 97 minutes long. Too short to hope to capture everything from the novel. But instead of feeling rushed, it feels complete. The abridged story stands perfectly on its own. There are no holes in the story or in the characters.

The romance. I thought it was very well done. I could see Mr. Rochester falling in love with Jane Eyre. And it was easy to see why he was drawn to her. Because the movie captured who Jane was. And I could see Jane Eyre falling in love with Mr. Rochester. So much of Edward's character is revealed through dialogue, so any time it's abridged there is a risk that the essentials will be lost. I didn't feel that to be the case here. Does Orson Welles capture ALL the essential elements of Mr. Rochester? I'm not sure that he does. I mean every adaptation tends to interpret his disposition a little differently. Is this Rochester too dramatic? I wouldn't say that. I mean one or two scenes come to mind that are a little over done. But then again, I think the same could be said of the more recent adaptations. (I'm thinking of Rochester reacting to Jane's leaving him after the big reveal in RAGE.) I happened to love how this Mr. Rochester reacted to Jane's goodbye.

All but the last twenty minutes of the film take place BEFORE the big reveal. At this point I thought Jane stumbling across her cousins and staying in hiding for months a bit unlikely. How could she even have time to get there, receive her inheritance, and return to Edward in such a short amount of time?! And I was right. It wasn't attempted. Instead the movie has Jane taking refuge somewhere else, somewhere perhaps a little unexpected at first. But the more I thought about it, the more the change worked for me. If you've seen this one, I'd be curious what you think of the changes!

Jane and Edward Meeting.
The ending.

© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


mohamed 8:00 AM  

"I always say if you liked the book go and see the movie, if you liked the movie go and read the book." Alfred Hitchcock

Birdie 9:16 PM  

"But instead of feeling rushed, it feels complete." I agree. I love this film version even though it does leave out so much. It still retains the essential love story and the original molding of Jane's character.

I also love that Brocklehurst is not quite shown as the hypocrite he is in the books (with his daughters in fine dress and with perfectly curled hair). That always seemed a little too much for me. I like that in this version, he is just so intent on his "Christian duty" narrowly conceived, that he destroys others.

The scene I would change would be Rochester playing piano while Blanche sings. My friend calls those closeups the 'I smell a fart' school of acting. Ha! He does look strange there--I wonder what emotion he intended to convey.

Laura's Reviews 2:13 PM  

Great review! I agree with you, I like this movie as a movie itself, but it's not an accurate adaptation. I love Elizabeth Taylor as the young Helen Burns. I also kind of like that Orson Wells is more the plain kind of hero Rochestor is portrayed to be in the book .. . although Joan Fontaine is not quite a plain Jane.

Birdie - I love your comments, it made me laugh out loud!

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