Rendering a classic text onto film is risky, more so if said text has already been turned into a film before. Comparisons are bound to follow, in one , long, whiny trail of what’s-better-in-this-one and what’s-worse. I myself have been a disgruntled participant in this procession on many occasions, and had been looking forward to the new cinematic version of Jane Eyre with expectations kept willfully low, when it pulled a Bertha Mason and surprised me.
It was a sincere, beautiful rendition of the eldest Bronte’s claim-to-fame novel. And here is why:
- The atmosphere. It is deliciously chilling, in perfect keeping with the Gothic spirit of the book, and is so tangible at points that it gives you goosebumps like few new thriller flicks do. From the opening sequence, Cary Fukunaga keeps you on tenterhooks. Those shots of the vast, hostile wilderness with the lone figure of Jane positioned variously in them, and the resemblance they bear to the dark, Romantic paintings of Caspar David Friedrich, and those tragic strains of a violin or piano accompanying the swellings in the story do the trick. Rochester’s ominous secret, the madwoman-in-the-attic bit, is also used well for atmospheric bonus. As in the novel, the filmmakers feed the audience’s terror by playing on the unseen, giving us little helpings of muffled laughter and mysterious creakings until we’re full with a typically Bronte-ish repast.
- The chemistry. After very long have I seen the kind of romantic oomph that Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender provide. Their ages are just right. Rochester was a lot older than Jane, and – this is important – neither of them was described in the novel as stunningly beautiful. Each had an elusive attractiveness, so thank HEAVENS they refrained from dolling up Wasikowska too much, or turning Fassbender into some Adonis. Toned down and mysterious, both act superbly, all the while channeling an energy that is more powerful because it is kept latent for the better part of the film.
- The supporting cast. Judi Dench just adds a gold star to any film she’s in, doesn’t she? Having seen this paragon decked out regally as Queen Elizabeth or Lady Catherine de Bourgh, you can hardly envision her as the housekeeper, Mrs. Fairfax. But she pulls off the role as if it had descended to earth, custom-made with an apron, just for her. And that one line (‘How very French!’), the only haughty delivery from her throughout, is definitely worth watching for all of us who love her deep-set, British curtness. Dench having been duly eulogized, an honourable mention should also be made of actor Jamie Bell, who plays a nice, staid St. John Rivers.