Jane Eyre

Carl Fukunaga captures the oppressive spirit of Charlotte Brontë's classic novel

As somebody who possesses both an ‘A’ Level and half a joint degree in English Literature, it may come as a surprise to the enthusiastic Brontë reader that I have never read Jane Eyre.

My only brush with a similar tome (or so I thought) was Jane Austen's Mansfield Park, which left me feeling decidedly underwhelmed by what I perceived to be a universal genre.

I was pleasantly surprised, then, to learn from a friend that Jane Eyre is more of a gothic bildungsroman than the aforementioned novel, a book that delves into issues of madness and forlorn passions.

Indeed the novel was strong on social criticism at the time of its publication, and has been described as Byronic. Having sketched an outline of what the novel was about, I had high hopes for this new film.

Directed by Cary Fukunaga (Sin Nombre), this adaptation stars Mia Wasikowska (Alice in Wonderland, The Kids Are All Right) as Jane Eyre, and Michael Fassbender (Hunger) as the inimitable love interest, Mr Rochester.

Wasikowska plays Eyre in a suitably clipped manner. She manages to capture the spirit of the heroine who, despite having fallen on relatively hard times, maintains a veneer of respectability and intellectual fortitude in the direst of circumstances.

In fact, Wasikowska's Eyre is not dissimilar to the manner in which she inhabited Alice in Tim Burton's wonderful adaptation of the Lewis Carroll book – here, again, she is a strong, confident woman masquerading as a naïve foundling.

The marvellous Fassbender, meanwhile, plays Rochester in a suitably pithy and paternalistic way. Evidently he has moved on from X Men: First Class.

While there have been previous cinematic adaptations of this brooding story, the current penchant in cinema for the baroque makes Fukunaga’s interpretation all the more appealing. The cinematography is glorious and foreboding throughout.

Visually, Fukunaga expertly captures the mood of this tragic love story. The film opens dramatically, for example, with the camera following Ms Eyre as she runs through a typical English moor in a crashing lightening storm. Prophetic fallacy, anyone?

There are omissions, of course, from the original story, such as the ‘red room’, which symbolises the gothic tone of the original novel, and manages to provoke sympathy for Rochester’s wife – the ‘mad woman in the attic’.

With a supporting cast featuring Sally Hawkins, Judi Dench and Jamie Bell, this Jane Eyre is sure to draw large audiences to the box office (as most Brontë adaptations do). Both Brontë enthusiasts and the uninitiated will find the film appealing, if lacking in certain areas.

Indeed, it could be argued that the two hour running time isn’t really long enough. Perhaps a more substantial film might have been more rewarding in terms of fleshing out plot twists and minor characters, and doing justice to the book, of course.

Jane Eyre runs at the Queen's Film Theatre from September 9 - 22. Book tickets via the QFT website.

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