Jane Eyre; adapted by Moira Buffini from the novel by Charlotte Bronte; directed by Cary Fukunaga; starring Mia Wasikowska (Jane), Michael Fassbender (Rochester), Jamie Bell (St. John Rivers), and Judi Dench (Mrs. Fairfax) (2011): Everyone in this good-looking but increasingly dumb-as-it-goes-along adaptation of Charlotte Bronte’s 1847 English 101 staple is a lot dumber and less interesting than their counterparts in the novel. And I’m not a big fan of the novel. But it does look great!
Structuring the movie as a frame tale with a lengthy flashback of a middle section is the smartest thing the movie does, though it did cause me some confusion initially as to when Jane was fleeing across the moors to the house of repressed clergyman St. John Rivers and his two nice sisters. Poor old St. John Rivers gets reimagined as Sexual-Harassment Panda by the filmmakers and a weirdly creepy looking Jamie Bell, something of a disservice to the doomed, repressed, but well-meaning character of the novel.
Mia Wasihowska does yeoman’s service as Jane, though the British accent occasionally seems to cause her to swallow her dialogue whole. In no recognizable universe is Wasikowska ‘plain’ as Jane is meant to be, which pretty much throws one of the proto-feminist concerns of the novel right out the window: the Rochester/Jane relationship isn’t a meeting of like minds that overcomes class and physical impediments, but rather a relationship of two good-looking people who eventually hook up. Oh, those crazy kids!
Michael Fassbender is suitably Byronic as Rochester, though he too gets dumbed down. The central Gothic horror of the novel — the madwoman in Rochester’s attic — virtually disappears in this narrative. So too does the family relationship of St. John Rivers and his sisters with Jane, a relationship that better explains Jane’s late-movie generosity with that family. Judi Dench plays Judi Dench playing Judi Dench. Lightly recommended.