Movie review: Much-filmed ‘Jane Eyre’ gets brisk, unconventional retelling
Any filmgoer looking askance at yet another adaptation of Charlotte Bronte’s often-filmed 1847 novel “Jane Eyre” can rest assured that the new one by up-and-coming director Cary Fukunaga is a smart, worthy addition to the book’s burgeoning, multi-media canon.
Since 1910, Bronte’s sprawling, multi-themed, five-stage tome has spawned 18 film versions, at least 10 TV adaptations, a radio drama, a two-act ballet, a stage musical, an opera, a symphonic interpretation, a graphic novel, numerous literary spinoffs, prequels and sequels and more.
So what’s new to glean from this heavily worked literary artifact whose 38 chapters are chockablock with florid motifs and allusions (from romanticism to Gothic horror; from the Byronic hero to the madwoman in the attic) and whose five sections range through hefty matters of morality and religion, social class and gender relations, love and passion, independence and the search for home and family, as well as atonement and forgiveness?
In the fairly flinty but lovely performance by Mia Wasikowska (“Alice in
Wonderland”) as Jane, in the cannily configured script by British playwright Moira Buffini (“Tamara Drewe”) and in the bold, richly visual direction of Fukunaga this film seems surprisingly fresh, more tough-minded and less melodramatic than previous versions.
Fukunaga, a film phenom who earned a Student Oscar at the University of California Santa Cruz and launched his career strongly with the tough immigrant thriller “Sin Nombre,” seems an odd choice to helm this elaborate period piece. But it seems his fresh eyes and contemporary sensibilities serve the material well.
Unlike previous versions (notably the 1944 Orson Welles-Joan Fontaine film and the lush, 1996 Franco Zeffereli picture), this film radically shuffles the story’s chronology and opens with a nifty framing device before condensing Jane’s cruel Victorian childhood into concise flashbacks.
The movie opens with Jane fleeing Thornfield Hall and Rochester’s dire secret into a sodden, storm-swept night on the desolate moors. After a shivering Jane is taken in by the pious clergyman St. John Rivers (Jamie Bell of “Billy Elliot” fame) and his kindly sisters (Holliday Grainger and Tamzin Merchant), we hark back to the chapters that brought her here.
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