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I love Jane Eyre. I've read the book at least 11 times over the past 35 years, and read it continually as a teenager, and I want to LOVE every production I see of it. I want ALL of them to be my favorites.
Sadly, I found this production of Jane Eyre to be particularly disappointing (but not nearly as disappointing as Virginia Bruce's completely bizarre version from the 30s).
While this interpretation tells the story in a straightforward manner, and it uses much of the dialogues from the book practically verbatim, I found the direction was off rhythm and the passion of and between the two main characters never materializes. I saw very little internal conflict. I felt neither suffering nor joy from either Jane or Edward. No passion, no pull, no attraction, despite the welcome voice-overs which revealed Jane's inner thoughts.
Again, the story is dealt with very directly, although key transitional scenes are left off and/or covered in the aforementioned voice-overs (i.e., Jane's fleeing Thornfield in the wee morning hours). Those are the kind of liberties that often must be taken for expediency and/or the sake of the overall production; you win some, you lose some. However, a minimum requirement for any production of Jane Eyre is the passionate attraction that pulls these two characters closer and closer to each other.
Sorcha Cusack's interpretation of Jane is rather bland; she is too stoic and impassive and somewhat inexpressive. In the 30s & 40s another famous Jane Eyre, Joan Fontaine, was dubbed the "Wooden Woman", I would here, sadly, christen Cusack the same. Jane is passionate character and is called such many times in the book, not meaning rash or wreckless or over-sexed, but passionate. I saw none of that passion from Ms. Cusack. This I think is the fault of the director's vision. Why do we never see Jane upset about Rochester's supposed relationship with Blanche? She never considers for a moment Rochester's proposition after the lunatic bride is revealed - although she clearly struggles with this in the book. Why was none of this conflict shown...these conflicts are where the agony and ache of this story is found.
Jayston's Rochester is also somewhat one-note. He bellows and blusters, and he never shuts up! Granted, Rochester does like to hear himself talk in the book, as well. But for some reason, he doesn't sound so bombastic in the written word. What he says sinks in, there are colors to his stories, you see/feel his conflict, his distress, his stubborn arrogance. Jayston's Rochester just seems self-centered, egocentric (and not to mention long-winded).
Finally, there really was no chemistry between the two actors/characters at all. And chemistry is what Jane Eyre is all about.
Jane Eyre the novel is particularly wordy (critics complained of this 150 years ago), and some of the dialogue is awkward and unrealistic. For example during the first proposal in the garden, Rochester says: "I sometimes have a queer feeling with regard to you--especially when you are near me, as now: it is as if I had a string somewhere under my left ribs, tightly and inextricably knotted to a similar string situated in the corresponding quarter of your little frame. And if that boisterous Channel, and two hundred miles or so of land come broad between us, I am afraid that cord of communion will be snapt; and then I've a nervous notion I should take to bleeding inwardly."
Now, really... Reading that sentence is one thing (even then, it's a bit much, really). Hearing/watching it in a movie...well...I took to bleeding inwardly! These are the kind of sentences that need judicious editing so that the actual meaning of the sentiment doesn't get lost in the words. I realize now that there is a real art to adapting screenplays from other sources. More is not necessarily always better.
All this being written (speaking of wordiness), I would still recommend that true Janians view this version. I recommend all versions, frankly. None are awful (except that Virginia Bruce version); all have something different to offer. This one, I would say, offers the dialogue lifted directly from the source. So if you MUST hear ALL the words spoken aloud, you will be satisfied.
However, if you're looking for the passion of it, I can't help but suggest the 2006 version with Stephens and Wilson. It's terribly revisionist, but there's no denying the passion/chemistry between the two characters. Stephens is more approachable, less bombastic, more human and multidimensional. The screenplay is inconsistent, but the FLAVOR is there. Other good versions, Dalton's BBC version from the 80s, and of course Welles/Fontaine from the 40s (just the juicy bits).
As I can never get enough of any Jane Eyre, good or bad, I must recommend this one. I don't think it's definitive as it lacks true passion (a score would have helped here, but only as a cover-up), but as far as Jane Eyre is concerned, on can never have too much of a good thing. All productions of Jane Eyre are like my children, I love them all, but I like some more than others. This is like the practical, eldest daughter, dutiful, prim and correct. Stephens/Wilson is like the wildchild daughter, good hearted but free-spirited.
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