Movie Review: Jane Eyre (2011)

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

I reviewed Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre for Masterpiece Monday last week, and today I watched this year's adaptation, directed by fellow UCSC alum Cary Joji Fukunaga.

The movie stars Mia Wasikowska ("Alice in Wonderland") as Jane, Michael Fassbender ("300," "X-Men: First Class") as Mr. Rochester, and Judi Dench as Mrs. Fairfax (I'm not even going to list her other films, because if you don't know Judi Dench, then get out from under your rock!).

I loved these actors in these roles, as well as appreciated appearances by Sally Hawkins from "Never Let Me Go" as Mrs. Reed and Tamzin Merchant from "The Tudors" show as Mary Rivers.

Mia played an excellent Jane, simultaneously strong-willed and vulnerable. She wasn't made up to look gorgeous, which Jane sure wasn't, so instead her personality shined. Michael also achieved as Rochester: handsome, but not excessively so, and nicely varied between loving and untrustworthy.

As a lover of Victorian literature and cinema, I enjoyed the rural settings and the costumes. Fukunaga's transitions between past and present might confuse those unfamiliar with the story, but they work just fine for fans.

There's just something about adapting the novel that doesn't work. The character-driven, coming-to-age story is perfect in print, because you want to digest it slowly; however, on screen the pacing is often too slow--a complaint more on the part of impatient viewers like myself and less on the director's faults.

You also can't see the major themes as deeply, including social hierarchy, gender differences and equality, and the role of religion. It's these themes which make the novel more than a love story and instead an insightful critique of social norms regarding patriarchy, marriage, education, and mental health.

Lastly, influential people in Jane's life, like Helen and St. John Rivers, are just minor characters in the film. And Bertha Mason, a character so intriguing that novels have been written to expand on her perspective, is reduced to a Helena Bonham Carter-lookalike, a madwoman with little more than a name, let alone a history. Bronte herself did not focus too much on Bertha (hence the spin-offs), but I felt like I understood her more in the book.

I would recommend this movie to Jane Eyre fans, so they can form their own opinions, but if you haven't read the book yet and are just looking for some romance, I'd pass on this film and watch something more conventionally 'Hollywood.'