Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Jane Eyre 2011

Of course it helps that Jane Eyre has been one of my favourite classic novels of all time, but that is exactly why this film could have gone so wrong and made me hate it so easily. Instead, I felt every chill and every thrill the characters felt, which is all to the credit of the makers and the actors.

But let's rewind to the beginning. This is the story of Jane, a young orphan, who having been cast out by her evil aunt after her uncle's death, is doomed to grow up in the heartless environment of a Victorian English boarding school. Through her childhood and adolescence, and despite the hardships, Jane remains a strong-willed, self-respecting individual, who does not let anyone walk all over her. She defies the norms of 19th century society and refuses to accept the 'inferiority' of her social class and gender. After working as a teacher at the school, she lands the opportunity to become governess to a young French girl, the ward of Edward Rochester of Thornfield Hall. The housekeeper, Mrs Fairfax, becomes the audience's guide in describing the absent Mr Rochester and his peculiar way of living. When he finally does make an appearance, we see that he is outwardly a foul-tempered, arrogant man, who has no compunction in belittling people who work for him. Little by little, Jane's intelligence and quick-wittedness capture his attention; her pride amuses and fascinates him; and soon he professes his love to her. It is at their wedding ceremony that Jane discovers the dark secrets he has been hiding from her and her fairytale romance turns into a nightmare from hell. How she deals with what fate throws at her, at every stage of her life, is the story of Jane Eyre, the woman who survives it all with her head held high.

Mia Wasikowska would not have been my first choice to play the most dignified of heroines in classic English literature - but I was pleasantly surprised by her in this film. She plays Jane in a fairly different way from how I imagined her to be, but I can't say that she plays her badly. Mia brings a measured level of naiveté and hope, laced with a reserve, that is interesting to watch. Having Judi Dench in the cast (playing the housekeeper), is like the director showing off that he has important friends. She isn't entirely wasted, and definitely lends a touch of prestige to the project, but the role could have been delivered by almost any one else. Jamie Bell and Sally Hawkins, along with the rest of the supporting cast, play their parts well and bring in the right dose of 'creepiness' to this master Gothic romance. But it's Michael Fassbender, who once again takes my breath away, with his perfect delivery of Rochester. Part-tyrant, part-wretch, despicable one minute and desperate another, he brings the animalistic appeal of Rochester come to life. It doesn't take him long to own the screen and the audience and, like Jane, we wait for him to return to Thornfield, every time he departs. He literally makes the scenes crackle, just by being in them.

Well-put together, well-directed and executed, this is a worthy Jane Eyre and manages to suck the audience into its dark world of lies, deceit and horrors without ever seeming to be trying too hard. Highly recommended.

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