A couple of weeks ago, newly released from classes, I did something I never, ever do any more: I took myself to see the new Jane Eyre, starring Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender. Jane Eyre is a novel I love and have read many times, so I was a little nervous. I needn’t have been. Within the constraints of a two-hour film, it was very good, about as good an adaptation as it could have been. It was well-acted, especially by Judi Dench (of course.) It was atmospheric, as all Gothic novels should be. It didn’t overplay the madness and it didn’t underplay Jane’s strength of character. It let an understanding of Rochester build that permitted him to be ambiguous, as he is in the novel: a man who is accustomed to have everything he wants, and convinces himself that he may have even Jane, even at the cost of her ruin; yet is essentially decent. It was extremely well done in almost every way.
Of course, what would be the fun of letting it go at that?
I did have a couple of problems with the way the film dealt with the material. My problem was not with the treatment of Lowood, though it skimmed rapidly over that part, which is interminable in the book. I’ve also never seen a Rochester who was as ugly as Bronte supposes him to be, but I was actually grateful for both of those things, which are necessities for a film. However, I thought there was one misreading of the text and one loss that could have been repaired if it had been dealt with differently.
The misreading was St. John Rivers. He’s presented in the film as a complete… sorry, I’m trying to think of a family-friendly term… nope, nope, douchebag is pretty much the only way I can think of to say it. In the book, he’s a zealot who requires as much sacrifice from others as he is prepared to give himself. Sure, I wouldn’t want to marry him, but I might go to India with him in a pinch. In the film, he’s angry, dismissive, and apparently unable to hear Jane’s words without mocking them — I wouldn’t go to Devon with him, let alone Calcutta.
The great loss in the film is, of course, Jane’s voice. Jane Eyre the novel is told in the first person, as if it is a book Jane is writing, and every scene is filled with her own personality, her experiences, her point of view. The film sees Jane from the outside-in, sometimes when she is unconscious or sleeping, and we hear her voice only when she actually speaks. I would have loved to hear some narration in voice-over, handled the way it was in Jane Campion’s film The Piano, perhaps. This might have given that sense of Jane’s own vision coming through.
Overall, it was a wonderfully enjoyable film, and one I’d watch again. Have any of you seen it? What did you think?