Jane Eyre (2011) Review


Watching Jane Eyre brought me back to high school English class—not just because I did in fact read the classic Charlotte Bronte novel upon which the film is based, but because I reacted to this film in the same way I would most assigned reading: I got through it at a sluggish pace, but ultimately enjoyed it. This is far from a perfect film, and I found myself looking at my watch more often than I care to remember, yet the two lead actors are so good and share such strong chemistry that I was willing to forgive many of the film’s shortcomings. I’ll recommend Jane Eyre, but only because of Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender.

In case you are unfamiliar with the novel, it follows the titular young woman (Wasikowska) as she grows up in her spiteful aunt’s (Sally Hawkins) household, gets her schooling at a cruel, all-girls institution, and becomes a governess at Thornfield Hall, the home of Mr. Edward Fairfax Rochester (Fassbender). While there, the two fall madly in love, though they must overcome a number of obstacles, not the least of which is the vast difference in their social statuses.

Director Cary Fukunaga (Sin Nombre) employs an unusual framing device in his interpretation of the film, opening things when Jane is with St. John Rivers (Jamie Bell) and his sisters. This means most of the film is told via flashback, and though I understand the need to try something different with a story that’s been told so many times, I thought this choice was a mistake. The St. John stuff never gets off the ground, and it makes the first third of the film a tough slog.

Once Jane and Rochester are introduced, however, the film takes off. Their love affair is the stuff of legend, and with two of the strongest actors working today in tow, Fukunaga and team manage to create enough chemistry and passion to make us feel invested—not an easy thing for something so old and familiar.

I mean it when I say Wasikowska and Fassbender are two of the best actors working today. Fassbender, I’d imagine, is an easier sell. Between his work in Inglourious Basterds, Fish Tank, and X-Men: First Class (as well as Steven McQueen’s Hunger, which I haven’t seen yet), most would agree that he’s a strong talent. Wasikowska, on the other hand, is rarely mentioned among her more experienced peers as a leader in her craft, but strong showings in Alice in Wonderland, The Kids Are All Right, and now this, she ought to get more praise than I think she does. The two of them together is something to behold. Jane and Rochester are far from the best match on paper, but their connection is apparent from the first time they meet. Wasikowska and Fassbender do a tremendous job withholding some of that passion and making their inevitable declaration of love incredibly moving.

Fukunaga also chooses to play up the gothic horror elements of the novel. It was these moments that I remember liking most about the novel, and though I think their inclusion here is nice, they aren’t really played up enough to make much of an impact.

Ultimately, Jane Eyre is a good movie that, despite not exactly being necessary, is well-made enough and certainly well-acted enough to be worth your time. Its problems are many, but its strengths outweigh them, and even those who aren’t familiar with or even interested in Bronte’s novel should find something in this material worth treasuring.

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