banner image

:: Jane Eyre

For over one hundred and sixty years Charlotte Brontë’s novel, Jane Eyre, has been one of the world’s most popular books. A story with a protagonist whom Brontë described as “a heroine as plain and small as myself”, the power and popularity of the 1847 novel have led to many filmic adaptations.

A radical novel for its time, the lead character has no money and no status and the film begins with a desperate Jane (played by Australian actress, Mia Wasikowska) running across the gloomy moors, to eventually collapse at the door of a family headed by St. John Rivers (played by Jamie Bell of Billy Elliot fame), who take her in and care for her. Via a series of flashbacks, we learn that Jane has lived a lonely life in the care of her unloving Aunt (played by Sally Hawkins) and endured the cruel austerity of boarding school. Whilst at school, Jane befriends Helen (Freya Parks), a poor child who impresses Jane as a soulful and contented person. When Helen falls fatally ill, the devastated Jane strengthens her resolve to stand up for herself and make the right choices for herself in life.

Jane is given employment as a Governess at Thornfield where she is treated with kindness and respect by Mrs. Fairfax (Judi Dench) and the Master of the house, Mr. Rochester (Michael Fassbender). Jane is able to hold her own in conversation with Mr. Rochester but she is continually perplexed by his dark moods and secretive demeanour. The strange goings-on at Thornfield such as the unexplained noises in the night and an apparently deliberately lit fire in Rochester’s bedroom, remind Jane of her childhood trauma where, locked in a room, she endured the terror of mysterious sounds and the spectre of ghosts.

The dark, Gothic mood conveyed in the film is a hallmark of not only Charlotte, but all Brontë sisters’ novels. Director Cary Joji Fukanaga brilliantly conveys the novel’s themes of coming-of-age and Mia Wasikowska is wonderfully appropriate as Jane and conveys the poise and quiet strength of Brontë’s future feminist icon. Dench is excellent as Mrs. Fairfax, the friendly housekeeper who gives the impression she knows the secrets of the house but would never tell. Fassbender plays the quintessential 19th century housemaster with great aplomb and conveys Rochester’s character with much light and shade and brings him to life in a multidimensional way.

Fukanaga’s rendering of Jane Eyre breathes new, contemporary life into a classic novel which brilliantly depicts the themes of social class, gender relations, love and autonomy. Inspired casting, art direction, and costume design make this dark, romantic, thriller a most impressive filmic adaptation of a seminal novel.