Monday, July 09, 2012

All About Jane (Eyre)

This summer I've met ten Jane Eyres and ten Mr. Rochesters. I've had a lot of fun spending time watching so many different adaptations of this classic novel. So which Jane Eyre is the best Jane Eyre? Who is my favorite Mr. Rochester? Which Jane Eyre would I recommend most? Well, I thought I would share my thoughts on all the films I've seen...

Jane Eyre (1934) [My review]

Black and white film starring Colin Clive and Virginia Bruce. This hour-long adaptation is comedic. It features a rather unique interpretation of Adele, for example. An Adele that gets stuck in a tree, an Adele that falls into a giant vase, an Adele that actually charms the guests, an Adele that begs Mr. Rochester to marry Jane. Mr. Rochester's preference for Jane is obvious; in this adaptation he actually ignores Blanche Ingram and dances with Jane Eyre. It may not be faithful to the novel--Mr. Rochester is seen talking with his lawyer about getting an annulment, he's actually just waiting for the paperwork to come through before he's free to marry again--it is good for a few laughs. 

Strengths:
  • Adele has a personality.
  • Viewers get a unique opportunity to see Bertha Mason when she's not acting insane
  • Is available to watch online
Weaknesses:
  • Virginia Bruce doesn't act like Jane or look like Jane.
  • Great liberties are taken with plot and characterization.
Jane Eyre (1943 or 1944) [My review]

Black and white film starring Orson Welles and Joan Fontaine. Orson Welles is WONDERFUL as Mr. Rochester. This film is melodrama at its best; very, very gothic. The proposal scene with the lightning strike, for example. It can be a little over-the-top at times, I admit, but Orson Welles is forceful and charismatic and a joy to watch! It's no surprise that Joan Fontaine is swept away. Joan is one of the older Jane Eyres, which is interesting because she's paired with one of the youngest Mr. Rochesters! (Orson Welles, 29, Joan Fontaine, 27) Still, their romance is completely believable.

Strengths:
  • Jane's childhood is wonderfully portrayed. Agnes Moorehead is a WONDERFUL Mrs. Reed, and Henry Daniell makes a fantastically evil Mr. Brocklehurst. Helen Burns is played by Elizabeth Taylor. Young Jane is played by Peggy Ann Garner. EVERYONE does a great job.
  • The romance is so STRONG; yes, it's melodramatic at times, but this Mr. Rochester is very swoon-worthy!!!
  • The abridgment makes complete sense; it stands alone as a film and works quite well.
Weaknesses:
  • The actors don't match the ages of the characters
  • The adaptation isn't faithful--in terms of plot--with the novel
Jane Eyre (1949) [My review]

Black and white TV episode for Studio One in Hollywood starring Charlton Heston as Edward Rochester and Mary Sinclair as Jane Eyre. While I can say that the Virginia Bruce and Colin Clive adaptation of Jane Eyre was worth watching, I'm not sure I can say the same of this one. Mary Sinclair is closer to looking the part of Jane Eyre--though the costumes are lacking, in my opinion. But she still doesn't act the part of Jane Eyre. There is nothing reserved about her, she's always gushing about something, or someone, like when she confesses all to Mrs. Fairfax during the "party" scene.

Viewers also get an interesting introduction to Mr. Rochester. We don't see his face until several minutes of their conversation go by. We only really get three locations for this adaptation: the main living space (pictured in both pictures), Jane's bedroom, and an outside garden that is just steps away from the living room. (There is no fire in Mr. Rochester's room--his bed curtains--Mr. Rochester falls asleep in a chair and viewers see Bertha sneak down the stairs and catch the floor--or a chair--on fire, depending on your perspective I suppose.)

Strengths:
  • Available to view online complete with two or three commercials for Westinghouse products (electric range stove with TWO ovens; electric sheet)
  • Interesting camera angles (though I don't agree with the theory that zooming in on candles or other objects "makes" a film appear gothic)
Weaknesses:
  • Bad costumes
  • Bad acting
 Jane Eyre (1970) [My review]

This color film stars George C. Scott and Susannah York. It is an abridged adaptation of the novel, but we do get to see part of Jane's childhood in this film, AND, we do get to meet the Rivers family. True, Jane doesn't learn that they are her cousins, and, true, she doesn't get her inheritance in this adaptation. It is not faithful to the book exactly, but, it's not as free as the 1934 or 1949 adaptations.

This film does not feel as timeless--TO ME--as the 1944 film starring Orson Welles and Joan Fontaine. I found Susannah York's portrayal of Jane to be lacking. She just didn't look like Jane Eyre; she didn't look the part. I had a hard time believing that she was a young, plain governess. George C. Scott was not my ideal Mr. Rochester either. Some viewers may have a different opinion, of course, but I had a hard time believing in the romance in this film. Their love scenes just didn't quite work for me.

Strengths:
  • Does a better job than some of the earlier adaptations in capturing the whole story of Jane Eyre, but, it's far from perfect, far from complete. We don't meet the Reeds at all in this adaptation. Jane doesn't receive her inheritance, but, she does receive a proposal from St. John Rivers.
Weaknesses:
  • Not the best acting
  • Not the best costumes
  • Feels a bit dated; the soundtrack does not help in this regard
  • Susannah York was too old to play Jane Eyre believably
Jane Eyre (1973) [My review]

BBC TV miniseries starring Sorcha Cusack and Michael Jayston. It is around four hours long. It is quite faithful to the book. It doesn't just touch on every part of the story, viewers get to watch it all unfold. Between the dialogue and the narration (voiced by Cusack), viewers essentially "have the novel read" to them. Not really. But it sometimes feels that way. Michael Jayston does a GREAT job in bringing Charlotte Bronte's hero to life. Using Bronte's own words, he's ready to make Jane (and viewers) swoon. (He certainly made me LOVE him). He captures the many sides of Mr. Rochester. (I was quite giddy in places!!!) And I just LOVED the ending. If this adaptation has a fault, however, it would be that Sorcha Cusack's Jane is too quick, too clever, too in control. The narration can also be intrusive and distracting at times. But. For the most part, this adaptation is worth viewing especially if you're patient. If you don't love the book, if you're just looking for quick and easy entertainment, this probably won't be for you.

Strengths:
  • Very faithful to the book, for the most part. It's not that the adaptation doesn't take some liberties here and there, it's just that most of the time they are so consistent that small differences don't take away the joy of the whole. 
  • Very faithful in terms of dialogue between Jane and Edward
Weaknesses:
  • May prove too long to some viewers
  • Lacks the quality of a 'real' film (this was a TV miniseries in the 1970s)
  • Jane's narration can be REALLY annoying at times
  • Appears a bit dated in some ways
Jane Eyre (1983) [My review]

BBC TV miniseries starring Zelah Clarke and Timothy Dalton. It is over FIVE hours long. Viewers get to spend over five wonderful, glorious hours with Mr. Rochester and Jane Eyre. This one is very faithful to the novel, and a pure delight to watch!!! Loved Timothy Dalton's portrayal of Mr. Rochester. LOVED, LOVED, LOVED to see him bring to life all the dimensions of Bronte's hero. Here viewers get to see how the *real* Mr. Rochester dressed up as gypsy, and here, viewers get to see Rochester's proper reaction to the big reveal as Jane prepares to leave him. (Though I must admit Jayston did a WONDERFUL job with this as well.) Loved the playful banter between Jane and Edward.

We get to see this relationship develop in a completely delightful way. Zelah Clarke is very, very close to my ideal Jane. Loved just about all the scenes they were in together. I definitely thought the romance worked in this one. Loved to see them tease one another. Yes, Mr. Rochester could tease her, could talk nonsense with her, but she could talk right back to him and hold her own. They were just so believable together.

Where this one may fail a little is in the gothic department. While the romance worked wonderfully, it didn't really capture everything that could be captured from the book. It wasn't mysterious and suspenseful and gothic. It wasn't great at being melodramatic.

Strengths:
  • Incredibly faithful to the book (as is the 1973 adaptation)
  • Very faithful in terms of dialogue between Jane and Edward
  • The romance works really, really well
  • Zelah Clarke is practically perfect in her role as Jane
  • Timothy Dalton is perfect in his role of Edward Rochester
  • Has a very horrid St. John Rivers!
Weaknesses
  • It is OVER FIVE hours long. Not every viewer wants to spend that much time with Jane and Edward.
  • It may seem dated to modern viewers
  • A miniseries from the 1980s, like the 1973 adaptation, this one looks more like a staged play. 
Jane Eyre (1996)

Film starring William Hurt and Charlotte Gainsbourg. I think Charlotte Gainsbourg makes a very lovely Jane Eyre. I really loved her portrayal of Jane. I thought it worked really well. She was just a delight to watch! William Hurt does a nice job as Mr. Rochester. His portrayal is not as forceful, as charismatic as Orson Welles, but, he did move me more than George C. Scott, Colin Clive, and Charlton Heston. While he can appear cranky, moody, or grumpy, viewers don't get the idea that he has a lot of rage and anger inside of him. He does appear broken and frustrated, but, not in an out-of-control way.

One nice quality to this adaptation is that the ages of the actors are closer to matching the characters...at least in terms of age difference. There is twenty-one years difference between them! So in some ways, they are able to bring Bronte's story to life on screen. While the romance in this one isn't magical, it's not bad either. I liked this movie, for the most part. I thought they did a good job adapting this one to fit for time--it's under two hours. Viewers even get the chance to meet Miss Temple (who is played by Amanda Root!!!).  There were definitely things that I enjoyed in this adaptation. Not that it's perfect, but I liked it. It was a very pleasant way to spend an afternoon.

Strengths
  • One of the better shorter adaptations
  • Charlotte Gainsbourg makes a great Jane Eyre
  • Liked how Mr. Rochester did not respond with violence and threats to Jane when she left him.
  • Enjoyed seeing Jane Eyre paint and draw; loved seeing her sketch Helen and Rochester, for example. It felt natural and right.
  • Really loved the score or soundtrack of this one
Weaknesses
  • The portrayal of Mr. Rochester isn't as forceful or charismatic as it could be. For better or worse. He's not over the top or melodramatic. He's not too angry or too violent. But he doesn't come across as passionate either. 
  • Not as faithful in detail to the original novel; St. John Rivers is NOT her cousin, but, is instead a rector near Gateshead, she first meets him and his sister, Mary, while visiting her dying aunt.
Jane Eyre (1997)

A&E Film starring Samantha Morton and Ciaran Hinds. This adaptation could have worked well for me, if only, if only, if only Ciaran Hinds had done a better job with Mr. Rochester. He tries so very, very, very hard to be mean and angry. It does sound like he's always yelling. And there were scenes when I felt he was just getting it all wrong. He was too angry, too violent, too destructive; Yelling his lines does not make him complex as a character. It doesn't mean that his portrayal was as forceful or as charismatic as Orson Welles. Watching some of his scenes made me want to cringe. There were some scenes that felt more restrained, but, they didn't feel exactly natural to me either. I never really believed that he WAS the character. Everything felt acted. But. I must say that I just LOVED, LOVED, LOVED Samantha Morton as Jane Eyre. I did!!! I thought she was delightful and wonderful. She is everything I imagined Jane to be. She felt just right in the role, a natural in the role. And the abridgment wasn't horrible either. I've seen worse. This film had great potential, but, it didn't quite work for me. I loved elements of it and hated elements of it. For example, Ciaran Hinds took Mr. Rochester to whole other level when he reacted too strongly to Jane's departure. After the big reveal, he took the character where he had no business going. That scene was just WRONG on so many levels. It does a good job at tainting the rest of the film for me.

Strengths:
  • Samantha Morton is a WONDERFUL Jane Eyre. I loved everything about her portrayal.
  • While it may not be quite as enjoyable, overall, as the 1996 adaptation. It is A LOT better than the 1970 adaptation!!!  The film is lovely in places, and well worth watching.
  • This adaptation had just the right amount of narration. 
Weaknesses:
  • Presents some of the characters differently than in the book. 
  • Is definitely an abridgment that makes some changes. She does NOT inherit money in this one, for example.
  • Ciaran Hinds is NOT my ideal Rochester. I did NOT like his portrayal of the character at all.
Jane Eyre (2006)

BBC miniseries starring Ruth Wilson and Toby Stephens. This film isn't quite four hours long. It has plenty of time to be faithful to the book, but is it? Every viewer will probably have an opinion on that. I feel it does take liberties with the dialogue--meaning that the words Jane and Rochester speak do not necessarily come from Bronte, and they may not even be true-in-spirit to Bronte's original. Also, there are a few scenes that take a LOT of liberty.

Meaning Rochester does NOT act like Rochester and Jane does NOT act like Jane. Some viewers may love these changes, others not so much. Toby Stephens does have charisma. Some charisma at least! And he plays his role well, for the most part. With drama, power, and passion. And he'll charm plenty of viewers, I'm sure. But. He's not my ideal Rochester. Ruth Wilson is a nice Jane Eyre. I'm not sure she's my ideal Jane Eyre, but, she does a nice job with the character. If the script had been more faithful, or even more faithful, perhaps, then this one might have wowed me. In many ways it is a beautiful film, and it's easy to see why it's a favorite with some viewers.

Strengths:
  • Great film, has plenty of gothic ambiance, very entertaining.
  • Gives the appearance of being faithful to the book, for the most part, covers Jane's childhood, her school years, her leaving Lowood for Thornfield, etc. A good amount of time is even spent with the Rivers. 
  • Nice romance between Jane and Edward; I felt too much liberty was taken here, but, for the most part it worked.
  • The film is a nice length; longer than some adaptations (1944, 1970, 1996, 1997) and shorter than others (1973, 1983). 
Weaknesses:
  • Not as faithful to the book as I'd hoped; some liberties are taken with some characters
 Jane Eyre (2011)

Film starring Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender. This film definitely has a feel and style all its own. It is completely unique in its storytelling--among Jane Eyres, at least. It begins with Jane RUNNING away from Mr. Rochester and his mad wife, Bertha Mason. A desperate Jane Eyre is your first impression. It is only after she finds refuge with the Rivers family (not her cousins, by the way) that her story unfolds in a series of flashbacks. This is not my favorite Jane Eyre adaptation. I don't think Mia Wasikowska is the best Jane ever. But I don't think she's the worst either. I think her portrayal is good. And if given enough time on screen, perhaps, Michael Fassbender could have made a good Rochester. But there's not enough time spent with the characters, with Jane and Edward, to develop a satisfying romance. I think I would be able to enjoy this film more IF it had had a proper ending. I feel this movie has a non-ending. (Another Jane Eyre film with an unsatisfying ending is the 1970 adaptation.) The ending needed to wow, to be as magical as the 1996 ending OR the 2006 ending. It needed something MORE. Instead it has a blink and you'll miss it ending.

Strengths:
  • Unique and original in its storytelling; you may love it, you may hate it, but it knows how to be different from all the other adaptations
  • Good film, very gothic, great at ambiance; looks beautiful
  • Mia Wasikowska is a believable Jane Eyre
  • Judi Dench is a good Mrs. Fairfax
Weaknesses:
  • Michael Fassbender's portrayal of Mr. Rochester didn't quite satisfy me. I think if he'd acted better after the big reveal; if he hadn't been portrayed as out of control and violent and over-the-top, then, I might have liked him better. His reaction  is NOT as bad as Ciaran Hinds, however.
  • Perhaps because of its arrangement, it doesn't necessarily feel true to the book; this could just be perception, however. 
  • Not enough time spent with dialogue between Mr. Rochester and Jane Eyre; not quite enough character development. 
Now, I'll rank my Mr. Rochesters

10) Charlton Heston
9) George C. Scott
8) Colin Clive
7) Ciaran Hinds
6) Michael Fassbender
5) William Hurt
4) Toby Stephens
3) Orson Welles
2) Michael Jayston
1) Timothy Dalton

And now for my Jane Eyres

10) Mary Sinclair
9) Susannah York
8) Virginia Bruce
7) Joan Fontaine
6) Mia Wasikowska
5) Sorcha Cusack
4) Ruth Wilson
3) Charlotte Gainsbourg
2) Samantha Morton
1) Zelah Clarke

The best adaptation around two hours: Jane Eyre (1944);
The best adaptation over two hours: Jane Eyre (1983)
Well worth watching: 1973, 2006, 1996, 2011, 1997
Worth watching just for laughs: 1934, 1949
Least Favorite: 1970
My favorite soundtrack: 1996
My least favorite soundtrack: 1970

© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

5 comments:

Leahmore Kristiansen 7:42 PM  

I'm new to the blogging world. I have a new one myself with one post. So I'm looking around. I'm impressed with the concept and your follow through with in-depth details. I for some reason tended to get Jane Eyre and Jane Austen mixed up in my mind so your post got me happily by accident. I've only seen the version of Eyre with Hurt recently and I enjoyed it. I never read it. The story didn't call to me like the other great romances that have. Namely GWTW and don't judge me harshly Twilight. Even the Hunger Games with the violent aspect has kept me resistant. Who can guess what draws one. But Austen's works - quite the opposite. I read Pride & Prejudice and seen at least 4 versions including Bride and Prejudice. Loved them all - esp looking forward to Colin Firths version. The Jane Austen Book club, Lost in Austen - Seen. I might be interested in doing with Austen what you've done here whether I find you and/or others already have - for my own sake or any one else who might find it interesting. So even though Eyre's story doesn't draw me the actors do so some day maybe with my daughter I'll get to the Dalton, Fountaine and Welles ones. I look forward to exploring more of your posts and being inspired by them. Please excuse my longwindedness.

Joyful Reader 12:07 PM  

You must have a wonderful library near by or an awesome video store. You keep my head constantly spinning with the desire to dig deeper into my reading. We are in a very rural area and our library is very poor. I get a lot of free classics on my Kindle but I really would rather hold the book! Because our library is so small we can only check out 2 books for a 2 week period. Thanks for sharing all these great reviews. I am going to get to Jane Eyre in August if my plans don't get messed up.

Anonymous,  12:30 AM  

Of the adaptations I've seen, I would need to rate my characters this way:

Rochester:
6)Michael Fassbender
5)William Hurt
4)Ciaran Hinds
3)Orson Welles
2)Timothy Dalton
1)Toby Stephens

This one was hard for me, Dalton's version is just TOO long :(

Jane
6)Mia Waskowska
5)Samantha Morton
4)Joan Fontaine
3)Charlotte Gainsbourg
2)Zelah Clarke
1)Ruth Wilson

I did not realize Ruth was so young compared to Toby! I would have wanted to be her in the kissing scene ;)

Thanks so much for the reviews. I will have to check out Charlton Heston's version. He is my all time favorite actor. :)

Athena 11:06 AM  

Hello! Wonderful project. I myself have seen 6-7 of these. I love adaptations and routinely compare them to books and each other.

I completely agree that Dalton is the best. I will always love him for that protrayal. His voice! It was let down by its outdated production values (i saw it on VHS) and the length.

I really loved the 2006 BBC version; while they took liberties, I think Ruth and Toby had the most chemistry of all the couples I have seen. She is probably my favourite Jane by sheer force of her acting and the right length of the production. Some of the other Janes are very good, but we don't get enough of them for example: Samantha Morton ranks highly too. She has the perfect look of a Jane Eyre. I could see how she would bewitch a Rochester.

As for the new adaptation: "Perhaps because of its arrangement, it doesn't necessarily feel true to the book; this could just be perception, however. " -- I concur. It was visually very good, but there was something off about this film that made it much more different and not as true to the book. I love Michael Fassbender, but I think the arrangement and the script let him down too. It's not one of my favourites of his.

Thanks again!

Anonymous,  1:32 PM  

I loved Fassbender as Rochester. He was smoldering. But I didn't like the ending. It was trying to hard not to be traditional and ended up not working. Which is a problem for a lot of modern films.

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I am interested in reviewing books and audio books. This blog focuses on books written for middle grade on up (essentially 10 to a 110). I review middle grade fiction and young adult fiction (aka tween and teen).

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