Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre shouldn’t particularly be good movie material. If the descriptions of Mr. Rochester and Eyre were followed closely, it’d be hard for any filmmaker to find an audience. No one wants to watch uglies fall in love. So it can be forgiven that the Cary Fukunaga choose the handsome and brooding Michael Fassbender as Rochester, and Mia Wasikowska as the ‘plain and simple’ Jane. Fortunately, Fukunaga, who’s last film Sin Nombre won over critics everywhere, stayed true to the ideas of the source material in most other areas. These ideas, forbidden love between class distinctions, terror, fierce independence, injustice between the deplorably immoral, and the intensely innocent, these parts of Brontë’s work transfer terrifically to the big screen.
Jane Eyre’s story doesn’t take place as chronologically as the novel. The beginning of the film sees Ms. Eyre running away frantically from Thornfield Hall, through misty and rainy mores, as if she’s frightened for her life. All the while there’s a ghostly voice on the wind calling her name and wondering where she is. As she looses the strength to go on, she comes across the home of St. John Rivers (Jamie Bell), a young clergyman, who lives there with his two sisters. There she begins to recover under the muted kindness of the family. Most of the rest of the film reveals Jane’s sad past through flashbacks.
Despite the puritanical behavior of everyone in this dark world, which often seems to be brimming with terror and secrets just below the surface, the erotic overtones cannot be ignored. It’s titillating and exciting to watch, so much so that the first kiss between Rochester and Jane is as much a relief from an uncomfortable amount of pressure as it is romantic.
Fukunaga was lucky to have such actors commanding the script material (a script adapted by Moira Buffini of Tamara Drewe). You almost believe that Wasikowska could actually be plain. Almost. And while Fassbender is far from ugly, he makes up for it with a personality that is far from appealing at first. But the performance that demands the most attention comes from Judi Dench, as Mrs. Fairfax, Mr. Rochester’s most loyal housekeeper. Dench’s Fairfax brings a much needed human touch to the personality of Thornfield Hall, she provides a rare friend for Jane, and keeps the young girl’s sense in check, avoiding too much romanticism. It’s Fairfax that seems to bridge the very human reality Jane lives in to the ethereal presences of Rochester. And without Dench’s subtle performance, this delicate balance wouldn’t have existed.
It can’t be denied that Fukunaga has a pleasing way of filling up a screen, but he’s aided here by the brilliance of cinematographer Adriano Goldman (Conviction, Sin Nombre). He keeps the lush hills of England, the smoky groves of trees mysterious and lurking, as impenetrable as Mr. Rochester seems to be. The thrilling original score of Oscar-winner Dario Marionelli almost steals the show as he did in a similar fashion with 2007′s Atonement. Jane Eyre is intensely romantic, atmospheric, tense, and brilliant. I loved it.