DIRECTOR: Cary Joji Fukunaga
CAST: Mia Wasikowska, Michael Fassbender, Judi Dench, Jamie Bell, Amelia Clarkson, Holliday Grainger, Tamsin Merchant, Romy Settbon Moore, Sally Hawkins, Freya Parks, Imogen Poots.
SYNOPSIS: After leaving a difficult and bleak childhood behind her, Jane Eyre (Wasikowska) becomes a governess at Thornfield Hall under the guidance of Mrs. Fairfax (Dench). After meeting the cold and abrupt master of the house, Mr. Rochester (Fassbender), Jane finds a true friend in him and soon finds herself falling in love. Softening his icy exterior, the further he lets her in, the closer she is to discovering a secret that could destroy the love she has for her employer.
Being a little unfamiliar with the story of Jane Eyre, I was very much looking forward to sitting back and enjoying another Gothic-tinged Bronte tale. However, sitting back was the last thing I was able to do, with Fukunaga’s Jane Eyre so fierce and consuming in its love story that you feel as if you are sitting amongst the characters, be it in the drawing room, the school yard or the unforgiving Yorkshire Moors.
Moira Buffini’s wonderful script led me effortlessly through the story, never allowing me to feel lost; a great comfort to those, like me, who had not read the book. No characters feel undeveloped, but you will still want to hear more from them. The stunning use of light and elegant shots from cinematographer Adriano Goldman compliment Dario Marianelli’s score to perfection, making it feel, at times, like a companion piece to Joe Wright’s 2005 Pride & Prejudice.
Mia Wasikowska is nothing short of phenomenal as the small and plain Jane Eyre. Transforming Jane into someone far beyond plain, her beauty shines through in her ability to put everyone before herself and her compassionate nature. An intensely intelligent performance, Wasikowska is entirely believable and her ability to hold her own against Judi Dench and Michael Fassbender extremely impressive, but altogether very natural. Already in the public conscience after her role as the titular character in Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland and the Oscar nominated The Kids Are All Right, this truly is Mia’s breakout role and will hopefully have her catapulted straight into the top ranks where she truly belongs. With her Northern accent curiously perfect throughout (Wasikowska is Australian), her Jane is no child, but a brave and determined woman who is the most sensible and rational of all those who surround her.
Yes, you guessed it, I am going to moan about how Michael Fassbender’s Irish accent keeps creeping through and distracting me (probably because I’m constantly trying to catch him out), but his roguish charm, devilish good looks and absolute dedication to Jane more than make up for this. Fassbender is an incredible actor. From Hunger to Fish Tank, Inglorious Basterds to X-Men, he seems to be able to take any role and have the audience in the palm of his hand, never letting us fear for a second that he might falter. His Rochester initially holds a great deal of authority, but as the layers are stripped away and we learn more about his faults and insecurities, we find Fassbender incredibly well equipped to portray a plateau of emotions that make us feel that Jane really is the centre of the household and on whom everyone relies. At their first meeting, the back-and-forth between Jane and Rochester is brilliant fun, with wonderful and understated comedic value. With a pitch perfect initial awkward chemistry, Wasikowska and Fassbender are perfectly cast opposite each other and leave the audience laden, but elated, with emotion.
Judi Dench and Jamie Bell add more comedy and humanity to the film, with Dench’s Mrs. Fairfax a great companion to Jane, but fundamentally an awful gossip and know-it-all. Bell’s Rivers becomes the brother that Jane never knew, while being a stoic presence within their household, but it has to be said that some of the best child acting I have seen recently may edge them out just a little. Amelia Clarkson’s portrayal of a defiant little Jane during her school years is extremely moving and a breath of fresh air in comparison to the generic, stage school child we see in a lot of films. Romy Settbon Moore’s Adele is also a delight; a pretentious little child who ends up becoming more and more like Jane each day. But I dare Freya Parks to leave your heart unbroken as Jane’s best friend, Helen.
While Jane Eyre is quintessentially a love story, elements of it do feel hurried, with Jane appearing to fall in love with Rochester practically overnight. But of course, we have to remember that you can’t play everything in real-time over a two-hour running time. Never dragging, Fukunaga could have allowed a little extra breathing space for the audience to indulge in the fascinating relationship unfolding before us. This is also testament to how easy and willing the audience are to invest in Wasikowska and Fassbender.
In line with Jane’s morals, this adaptation is grounded in absolute realism and does not fall foul of unnecessary heightened emotion. With brilliant use of tension and silence during Jane’s eerie night time walks along the corridors of Thornfield Hall, the film stays true to the book’s gothic nature, but a pivotal revelation during one of these moments is disappointingly underwhelming and doesn’t scare quite as it could.
Jane Eyre is a beautiful film with fully formed characters that make us realise the lack of our own integrity. Where Jane may be small and overlooked by many, Wasikowska will not have to worry about this. The heartbeat of the film and a perfect example of how to overcome adversity, Wasikowska keeps it cliché free by acting straight from the heart and making us all wish we were a little more like Jane.