England 1809. Jane Eyre is isolated in the moors, depressed and dying. Collapsing in exhaustion, she is soon rescued by St John Rivers and as she recovers, relives her experiences.
As a child, Jane is abused by her cousin John and later abandoned at Lowood School by her aunt, Mrs Reed of Gateshead. While receiving a thorough education at Lowood, Jane is punished for her passionate nature and experiences true pain and loss as her only friend, Helen, becomes ill and dies in Jane’s arms. Years later, at the age of nineteen, Jane leaves Lowood, having been a teacher for some years and takes the post of Governess at Thornfield.
While at Thornfield, Jane befriends Mrs Fairfax, the housekeeper and develops a strong relationship with her employer Mr Rochester. His frank and direct attitude appeals to her and she finds herself jealous of the pretty Miss Ingram, who she assumes holds his affections. When Mr Rochester proposes to Jane, she is overjoyed but soon heart-broken; it is revealed that he is already married to Bertha, the insane woman locked in the tower. Jane has no choice but to leave.
Jane becomes a teacher at Morton and, when her uncle dies, inherits a fortune. St John proposes but Jane denies him; she hears the pained cries of Mr Rochester and returns to Thornfield. She finds him blind from a fire and they reunite, sharing a loving embrace.
In the hands of young director, Cary Fukunaga, this feature adaptation preserves and enhances the feelings of isolation, self-discovery and passion that encapsulates the intensity of Charlotte Bronte’s Bildungsroman.
Cary Fukunaga’s adaptation of Jane Eyre faces a similar complication as Joe Wright’s recent film version of Pride and Prejudice: inescapable and exhaustive comparisons to not only the novel but to previous movie adaptations and TV series. If the adaptation is a success, it is due to the talents of a focused cast, elegant scripting and Fukunaga’s fresh direction that gives the film a subtle strength and emotional gravity that he brought to the 2009 film, Sin Nombre.
The four-part series, directed by Susanna White ran for 202 minutes. With only two hours of running time the director and screenwriters managed to successfully retain and enhance the essentials of the novel without degrading any of the fundamental facts or plotlines. Though some character details are dimmed, the film still preserves the bleak and secretive atmosphere that both Jane and Mr Rochester generate throughout their intense and emotional interactions.
With brilliant performances by the brooding Michael Fassbender and the reserved independence of Mia Wasikowska, Fukunaga’s dark and sexually intense adaptation of Jane Eyre provides the audience with a gothic romance which is perfectly balanced by the maternal excellence of Judi Dench as the elderly housekeeper, Mrs Fairfax.
Though some aspects can be viewed as disappointing, such as how the score at times overwhelms the action and performance of the actors, the suspense and promise of romance enthrals the audience with its dramatic impact and unfailing passion.