Friday, April 21, 2017

"Jane Eyre" (1996) -- Initial Thoughts

Hard to believe it's taken me twenty years to see this version of Jane Eyre, isn't it?  This was released right about the time that I first read the book, and I've wanted to see it for a long, long time, but it just never crossed my path.  Thanks to a kind friend who loaned me her copy, I have finally rectified that.


This is the fifth adaptation of Jane Eyre I've seen.  And I've realized that, unlike Hamlet productions where I can deal with a bad portrayal of some of the characters and still really enjoy it, even bad or boring versions of Horatio and Laertes, whom I love... for a Jane Eyre adaptation to work for me, I have to be satisfied by both the Jane and the Rochester or I'm just not going to be a fan.


I quite liked Charlotte Gainsburg as Jane Eyre.  She was determined and intelligent and passionate, but still naive and curious and hesitant about some things.  She worked well in the role, and I especially liked how very young she looked, even though she was quite a few years older than Jane is supposed to be.


The screenplay did a good job of showing her blossom and grow while under Rochester's influence.  Her impassioned speech to him when she thinks he's getting married to Blanche Ingram was excellent.


Alas, I was not so impressed with William Hurt as Mr. Rochester.  While he was the right age for the part, and was great at looking stern and melancholy, he lacked the fire and darkness I expect from Rochester.  During my last reading of the novel, I noticed over and over how Charlotte Bronte contrasted the way that Jane and Rochester dealt with their inner passions.  Jane did not allow her emotions to master her reason, and Rochester seldom let his reason master his emotions.  But this Rochester feels very cerebral, thinking and pondering and musing and contemplating.  Not particularly Rochester-like.


There were some scenes where he roused and became more the way I expected, but overall, I felt he was too internal.  He was kind of like the opposite of the Toby Stephens version of Mr. Rochester, who was at the other extreme and too full of sturm und drang instead of possessing too little.

They also smooshed the last third of the book into a tiny space, which kind of, sort of worked, except we never really got to contrast St. John Rivers (Samuel West) with Mr. Rochester to help Jane understand why she loves Mr. Rochester, which was a disappointment to me.

Overall, I'm glad I've seen this version, as this Jane Eyre was very sympathetic, and I've been wanting to see it for a long time.  But I did not love it.  I did really like how they framed this final shot, though:

15 comments:

  1. I loathed this version for while the Jane was the best Jane, Mr. Rochester was too old, unattractive in an unRochester way, WHINY, and just bleh. BTW Toby Stephens is my favorite (of the ones I've seen, I still need to see the Timothy Dalton version).

    I really feel that most of the movies majorly miss the significance of St. John. as a sort of foil to Mr. Rochester. Crazy as this sounds, I actually like St. John in the book, or almost like him. Of course, I really think I prefer (almost?) the movie version or I need the movies to appreciate the book at all. So there is that for book blasphemy.

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    1. Livia, I wouldn't say I loathe this version, but I won't be buying my own copy, either. Funny you call this Rochester whiny, though, as the Toby Stephens Rochester is much too whiny for my taste!

      You're right, most movies just don't get St. John Rivers right. I don't like him in the book, but I appreciate his importance and can respect his conviction.

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    2. Well, there are probably degrees of whiny because Rochester's character complains quite a bit.

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    3. And I think there's a difference between complaining and whining that some people miss.

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  2. William Hurt is HORRIBLE in this. He has no on-screen presence at all, so the screen makes a giant sucking sound whenever he's on it. :P

    Stevens is my favorite, though Dalton is good. I also enjoyed the most recent version, though I have to say my absolute favorite version is the musical. It's the one that doesn't leave out the symbolism or Jane's faith. :)

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    1. Charity, haha! Well, I'm glad I'm not the only one who wasn't enchanted.

      Dalton is my favorite, and then Fassbender and Hinds tie for second. My favorite Jane is actually Ruth Wilson, so I need to see that version again. I've listened to songs from the musical once, but couldn't pay complete attention to it, and need to find it again. I've probably asked this before, but is there a recording you recommend?

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    2. I'm not a big Hurt fan, in general. I've never been impressed with his acting.

      Ruth is a very good Jane. Playful, emotional, and understated.

      The best version is Jane Eyre: The Musical (Original 2000 Broadway Cast). :)

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    3. Charity, I know I've seen him in stuff like Captain America: Civil War, but I only know that cuz I looked him up just now. Clearly not one to make an impression on me either.

      I have just ordered a used copy of that version of JE:TM on Amazon! Thanks!

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  3. This is my fave part of your review: "During my last reading of the novel, I noticed over and over how Charlotte Bronte contrasted the way that Jane and Rochester dealt with their inner passions. Jane did not allow her emotions to master her reason, and Rochester seldom let his reason master his emotions." You've become a very good writer! Great insights!

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  4. This was such an interesting read. I'd really like to see some new adaptions of Jane Eyre sometime. Just for the fun of it. I've only ever seen the Zelah Clarke/Timothy Dalton version. Of course I love that one and I don't expect to find one that I like better, but it would still be fun to watch some other versions just for the sake of comparing them. :)

    Thanks for a great review! :)

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    1. Miss March, the Clarke/Dalton is my favorite, and I've never seen another that captures the book quite so well.

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  5. I found this bone-crushing when I saw it in the theatre. I would not have cast William Hurt. And even if the character is described as plain, etc., in the novel, shouldn't a somewhat attractive and engaging actress play a lead role in a movie? It was like two hours of wooden pouting.

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