Jane Eyre (PG)
Cary Fukunaga’s interpretation of Charlotte Brontë’s gothic epic is an intelligent rendering but one which curiously fails to ignite.
It is cast with two new bright stars, Michael (Hunger) Fassbender and Mia (Alice in Wonderland) Wasikowska. It brings the bleakness of the book to vivid life courtesy of breathtaking cinematography by Adriano Goldman. It looks superb.
Yet something is missing. Screenwriter Moira Buffini had the unenviable task of paring back the narrative to achieve a structure befitting a two-hour movie. Her filleting of the plot is considered and geared towards attracting a wide modern audience.
Thus this 21st century offering presents the slow-burn affair between Jane, the poor, plain, ordinary orphan and Rochester, the anguished, brooding hero who hides a terrible secret, as the focus in a film that parades its minimalist credentials with pride.
Purists may shriek at the film’s stylised approach, Fukunaga’s fondness for jolts and jumps, and the quasi Hammer Horror atmosphere that shrouds the action like an icy cloak.
Yet that atmosphere is always authentic, always plausible, always acceptable. The acting and dialogue – Wasikowska in particular handles some particularly tricky lines without mangling the script – are a pleasure and underline the care and attention paid to the project.
Jane’s virtue is her future. A soulful lass with a heart of iron, she wills herself to succeed in a life that has stripped her of everything except her good character. Rochester, a terribly isolated and lonely man, sees it from the outset.
Wasikowska and Fassbender present these two titans of 19th century literary drama as two parts of the same whole. Theirs is a stalking romance, constrained by the times and unable to reveal itself. Chastity is all and even a hint of Jane’s burgeoning sexuality and yearning is barely offered by Buffini’s screenplay.
There is chemistry between the two principals but it remains tantalisingly out of reach. And when Rochester/Fassbender is off screen the energy palpably dips.
Fukunaga and Buffini opt to tell the story in flashback. Thus the film is book-ended by sequences at the home of St. John Rivers (Jamie Bell evolving into a fine character performer) and whole scenes from Brontë’s book are excised.
One setpiece moment is glaringly absent from this version of Jane Eyre. The build-up is there but the final revelation by Judi Dench (stealing the film and all the best lines as all-seeing housekeeper Mrs. Fairfax) is a let-down of colossal proportions.
A film of high ambitions and intellect, ultimately Jane Eyre may have been prevented from joining the ranks of true classics by budgetary constraints.