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The story of Jane Eyre, the plain quakerish governess is told from her childhood until she arrives at Thornfield Hall to tutor the young Adele. She finds herself intrigued by and attracted to Thornfield's owner, the dark, sardonic (natch) Mr. Rochester. But a dread secret resides in Thornfield Hall. Written by
Actress Zelah Clarke considered this film to be the end of her acting career. See more »
Mr. Rochester is seated with a sprained ankle on the sofa as he attempts to draw Jane out. At first, Mr. Rochester's left leg is stretched out and his right is bent upright. When he tells Jane to play the piano in the next room, he is shown with his right leg stretched out and his left leg is bent. When Jane re-enters the room, his leg is switched again. See more »
Edward Fairfax Rochester:
I wish at times I were a trifle better adapted to match with her, externally. Tell me now, fairy that you are, you couldn't give a charm or a filter or something of the sort?
I would be past the power of magic, sir.
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Glorious. Perhaps Best Adaptation of a Novel I've Ever Seen.
I felt duty bound to watch the 1983 Timothy Dalton / Zelah Clarke adaptation of "Jane Eyre," because I'd just written an article about the 2006 BBC "Jane Eyre" for TheScreamOnline.
So, I approached watching this the way I'd approach doing homework.
I was irritated at first. The lighting in this version is bad. Everyone / everything is washed out in a bright white klieg light that, in some scenes, casts shadows on the wall behind the characters.
And the sound is poorly recorded. I felt like I was listening to a high school play.
And the pancake make-up is way too heavy.
And the sets don't fully convey the Gothic mood of the novel. They are too fussy, too Martha Stewart. I just can't see Bronte's Rochester abiding such Martha Stewart domestic arrangements. Orson Welles' Rochester lived in cave-like gloom, very appropriate to the novel's Gothic mood.
And yet ... with all those objections ... not only is this the best "Jane Eyre" I've seen, it may be the best adaptation of any novel I've ever seen.
This "Jane Eyre," in spite of its technical flaws, brought the feeling back to me of reading "Jane Eyre" for the first time.
The critics of this production say it is too close to the book. For me, someone who valued the book and didn't need it to be any less "wordy" or any less "Christian" or any more sexed up, this version's faithfulness to the novel Bronte actually wrote is its finest asset.
Bronte wrote a darn good book. There's a reason it has lasted 150 years plus, while other, slicker, sexier and easier texts, have disappeared.
As a long time "Jane Eyre" fan, I was prejudiced against Timothy Dalton as Rochester. Rochester is, famously, not handsome; Jane and Rochester are literature's famous ugly couple. And Timothy Dalton is nothing if not stunningly handsome.
But Dalton gives a mesmerizing performance as Rochester. He just blew me away. I've never seen anything like his utter devotion to the role, the text, the dialogue, and Rochester's love for Jane. Dalton brings the page's Rochester to quivering life on screen.
Rochester is meant to be a bit scary. Dalton is scary. Welles got the scary streak down, too, for example, when he shouts "Enough!" after Fontaine plays a short piano piece. But Dalton is scary more than once, here. You really can't tell if he's going to hurt Jane, or himself, in his desperation.
Rochester's imperiousness, his humor, his rage, his vulnerability: Dalton conveys all, sometimes seconds apart. It's stunning.
And here's the key thing -- the actor performing Rochester has to convey that he has spent over a decade of his life in utter despair, lonely, living with an ugly, life-destroying secret.
No other actor I've seen attempt this part conveys that black hole of despair as Timothy Dalton does. Current fan favorite Toby Stephens doesn't even try. Dalton hits it out of the park. If I saw Timothy Dalton performing Rochester in a singles bar, i would say, "That guy is trouble. Don't even look at him." He's that radioactive with tamped down agony.
Zelah Clarke is not only, overall, the best Jane I've seen, she's one of the very few Janes whom producers were willing to cast as the book casts Jane. No, folks who know "Jane Eyre" only from the 2006 version, Bronte did *not* describe a statuesque, robust Jane with finely arched eyebrows and pouty lips. Rather, Charlotte Bronte's Jane is, indeed, poor, plain, obscure, and little, and NOT pretty.
Zelah has a small mouth, close-set eyes, and a bit of a nose. She's truly "little." She is no fashion model. And she is the best Jane, the truest to the book.
Some described her a cold or boring. No, she's true to the book. Bronte's Jane is not a red hot mama, she's a sheltered, deprived teen whose inner passions come out only at key moments, as Zelah's do here. The book's Jane is someone you have to watch slowly, carefully, patiently, observantly, if you want to truly plumb her depths. You have to watch Zelah, here, to get to know who she really is.
I would have liked to have seen more fire in Zelah in one key scene, but that's one scene out of five hours in which she is, otherwise, very good.
In spite of its closeness to the text, this version, like every other version I've seen, shys away from fully explicating the overtly Christian themes in "Jane Eyre." Christianity is not incidental subtext in "Jane Eyre," it is central.
Helen Burns instructs Jane in Christianity, thus giving her a subversive, counter cultural way to read, and live, her apparently doomed, pinched life. It is Christianity, and a Christian God, who convinces poor, plain, obscure Jane of her equal worth, her need to live up to her ideals, and her rejection of a key marriage proposal. That isn't made fully clear here.
In any case, Charlotte Bronte wrote an excellent, complex, rich novel, and this adaptation of it, of all the ones I've seen, mines and honors the novel best of any adaptation I've seen, and that says a lot.
Other versions, that don't fully honor the book, end up being a chore to watch in many places. If you don't care about what Charlotte Bronte has to say about child abuse, or the hypocrisy of a culture built on looks and money, your adaptation of much of the book will be something people fast forward through to get to the kissing scenes between Jane and Rochester.
This version, like Bronte's novel, realizes that everything Bronte wrote -- about Jane's experiences at Lowood, and her relationship to St. John -- are part of what makes Jane's relationship to Rochester as explosive and unforgettable as it is.
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