No matter how many screen adaptations are made of Charlotte Brontë’s mysteriously romantic 1847 novel Jane Eyre (and there have been a lot) it’s always fascinating to see each new director’s take on this intriguing tale. Cary Joji Fukunaga helms the latest incarnation—out in NY and LA March 11 from Focus Features—and his choice of Alice in Wonderland’s young-yet-wizened Mia Wasikowska as the titular heroine was a decision I first found discordant (isn’t she a little too lovely to play plain Jane?) but soon found brilliant once she established herself as an absolute embodiment of the book’s self-sufficient governess.
Bathed in flickering firelight, drenched in shadows, and surrounded by the evocative greens and grays of the misty English countryside, Wasikowska and the equally capable Amelia Clarkson, who is heartbreaking as 10-year-old Jane, spin the sad tale of a girl orphaned, abused by her cruel aunt (played surprisingly against type by the usually loveable Sally Hawkins), and abandoned in a bleak charity school before she finds her way out as a teenage tutor in an isolated manor house. These scenes of Jane’s early life are poetically spare, leaning less on dialogue and more on evocative imagery to deliver the cold chill of her early repression and terrible losses.
But what worked so well in the fist half of the film became this production’s downfall in the second. As Jane becomes drawn into the enigmatic world of her employer, the gruff, brooding Mr. Rochester (Inglorious Basterds’ Michael Fassbender), the script practically cries out for more interactions between the two to articulate the fact that indeed a romantic spark is developing between them. Instead, their screen time together is kept so stylistically minimal, when Rochester finally makes his feelings for Jane known, his declaration seems to come comically out of left field, as do the stunning consequences that follow.
A visually beautiful, big-budget rendering of a timeless classic, Jane Eyre is certainly eye candy for fans of the gothic love story. But for those uninitiated into the cult of Jane, the relationship at the core of this twisted tale will require a lot more explaining after the credits roll. [Emily Rems]
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