The story of Jane Eyre is one that first came to light many years after its initial publication in 1847 (published under a pseudonym) and didn’t become popular until the beginning of the 1900s. A few decades later Jane Eyre’s first big screen adaptation came about in 1943 written by Aldous Huxley and starring Orson Welles and Joan Fontaine. Many film and TV adaptations followed and nearly 70 years later comes Cary Fukunaga’s adaptation starring Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender.
Fukunaga changes the book’s chronological story to a non-linear structure, starting the film in the middle of a dramatic escape from something and a struggle for survival, immediately creating a sense that something is wrong. As Jane explains where she has come from we flash back to Jane’s childhood dipping into the roots behind Jane’s character: reserved, strong willed, determined, passionate, and intelligent. Despite being born to a wealthy family, Jane was orphaned at a young age and put under her Aunt’s charge, who has no respect or compassion for Jane. It is from this moment Jane begins to challenge the class system from within asking the question: why should people be treated different because of their appearance or wealth?
After being sent off to a strict and gruelling life at a boarding school where beating and starvation were not unusual forms of punishment, Jane leaves the school as a grown women, ready to begin her life as a lowly governess. She replies to a job advertisement at Thornfield Hall and is welcomed in by the staff and her pupil, Adele. The master of Thornfield, Mr Rochester, is only ever mentioned in brief passing, but many months later he finally arrives.
Jane’s first encounter of Rochester does not put her in great light, and so begins a companionship based on honestly, bluntness and, on his part, rudeness. Rochester is the first person Jane feels comfortable retorting back to and a relationship between the two, first intrigue and then romantic, form between the two. But after a fire nearly burns the house down, Jane is determined to uncover the secret that Rochester keeps from here.
Fukunaga’s version is perhaps the most supernatural and gothic of the adaptations and brings Charlotte Bronte’s story back to its roots. Many adaptations grasp the importance of the supernatural theme but find it difficult to balance it against the period romance, but Fukunaga manages the balance perfectly. Some moments you’ll be caught up in the banter between Jane and Rochester, and others you’ll be following every flicker of the candle to find what lies behind the darkness or the corridors.
I originally had doubts about Fassbender being cast as Rochester, given the description of Rochester in the book, but Fassbender is brilliantly rude, charming and captivating and with Wasikowska they work perfectly, balancing off each other. The supporting cast is filled to the brim with British talent including Judi Dench, Sally Hawkins, Jamie Bell and many others. Meanwhile the location, Hadden Hall, where many previous period films have been shot, is magnificent as it is eerie and you can sense the history and past from this wonderful location.
Although not every scene from the book could make it into the film, Fukunaga kept the scenes that make you fall in love with the book and the characters, the ones that will make you proud of Jane, charmed by Rochester, spooked by the supernatural and captivated by the story.
For fans of the book this is an adaptation you’ll watch over and over, and for newcomers it is a perfect way to open yourself to a period film filled with equal about of romance, horror, supernatural and suspense. This is a period drama for all generations.