Jane Eyre (2011)

Directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga
Written by Moira Buffini

Yes, it’s true, the classic Charlotte Brontë novel Jane Eyre has been adapted once more for the screen. Past adaptations have featured such legends as Orson Welles, Joan Fontaine, George C. Scott, Elizabeth Taylor, William Hurt, Charlotte Gainsbourg and Timothy Dalton. Alright, so some of those may not be legends, but this does mark the 16th time the tale has been adapted for the silver screen. So you may ask, what makes this one different or worthwhile? And I will tell you: because it is a great story, it features great actors, and is a great modern costume drama full of life and beauty.

For those unfamiliar with the classic tale, Jane Eyre is the story about a young woman (Mia Wasikowska), an orphan, who is the poster child of the unwanted. She is sent to a boarding school and from there is hired on as a governess for a rich man’s (Michael Fassebender) daughter. Here she starts to feel welcomed by her colleagues and her employer, who in response takes a liking to the girl. But an evil secret lurks and hovers over the proceedings, and Jane’s disposition seems to suggest that she knew it was there all along, or at least expected her life was becoming too good to be true.

If Wasikowska’s Jane Eyre is a remarkably human and brilliant performance, then Fassbender’s Mr. Rochester is in every way its equal. The heart and soul of the film unfolds in these two performances and much of the film hinges on them. The fact that these two actors knock it out of the park is nothing short of astounding. The beauty of the film comes in the form of the melancholia and depression which seem to haunt Jane Eyre’s existence. The emotion comes from the painstaking realization that everything Jane has experience has conditioned her to fear the worst, and oftentimes she is not wrong in thinking that way.

Matching the great story and great acting, director Cary Joji Fukunaga makes sure every shot is delicately and deliberately thought out and delivered, creating a film that is astonishingly gorgeous and at the same time heartbreakingly bleak. Fukunaga is able to take an old story and make it fresh once more by structuring the film in an interesting way, mixing flash forwards with the main narrative. He also has such a romantic touch, which is evident in his first film, Sin Nombre, as well. And mirroring the great sense of mood built throughout the film, composer Dario Marianelli delivers a subtle film score that is hauntingly effective in its ability to blend in with the lushly beautiful cinematography.

The costume drama seems to be a very niche genre, complete with a devout following as well as a horde of detractors. Despite the general definition technically including such titles as 300, the style most often refers to English period pieces and is not for everyone. Therefore, let me say now that this film does nothing to attract the detractors. But for those that either love or do not mind costume dramas, Jane Eyre is worth checking out, if for no other reason than feast the eyes on the great costumes and all the other stunning visuals. But the film is also a triumph of storytelling, acting and mood, which is why I wish more people would like costume dramas, and more people would see this remarkable film.

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