Starring Mia Wasikowska, Michael Fassbender & Judi Dench
Directed by Gary Fukunaga
Rated PG-13; 120 minutes
Charlotte Brontë’s 1847 novel Jane Eyre has been a Hollywood go-to for almost a century. It’s been churned into more than two dozen theatrical films and made-for-TV movies, variously starring Orson Welles, George C. Scott, Elizabeth Taylor, Margaret O’Brien, William Hurt and Anna Paquin.
With all the spotlight and star power already spent on its story, you might wonder if there’s enough gothic go-juice left in the tale to fuel yet another re-telling.
But the latest version, starring 21-year-old Mia Wasikowska in the title role and directed by Gary Fukunaga, hits all the right notes anew for anyone who’d love to be swept up and away in a stirring, costume-drama saga that has admirably weathered the wuthering tests of time.
Jane, a British orphan, runs a gauntlet of childhood obstacles before her path finally leads her, at age 19, to a job for brooding Edward Fairfax Rochester (Michael Fassbender), whose handsome countryside manor is full of mystery, deceit and danger.
Newcomer Amelia Clarkson, making her big-screen debut, is impressive as the younger version of the character, enduring a cruel guardian aunt and heartless schoolteachers. But Wasikowska, who held her own against Mad Hatter Johnny Depp last year in Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, gives an especially potent performance as the “older” Jane, running away when we meet her in the opening scene from something we don’t know about until much later, and into a future that will hinge on the “goodness of strangers.”
Acclaimed British actress Judi Dench takes a supporting role as Rochester’s housekeeper, the first adult in Jane’s life to treat her with any degree of respect, compassion or kindness.
Anyone familiar with the novel or any of the movie’s previous versions won’t be surprised by what awaits Jane at the end of her emotionally wrenching travails. But even knowing how the story ends doesn’t distract from this version’s powerful depiction of a young woman making her way in an era dominated by men and divided by gaping chasms of gender and class.
The movie is faithful to the storyline and themes of Brontë’s novel, which combined a compelling rags-to-riches tale with burning passions and smoldering secrets, spiked with pointed statements about morality, religion, forgiveness and the universal yearning to be part of a loving, caring family.
The cinematography is gorgeous, making forbidding moors all the more desolate, dark hallways all the more ominous—and flowing tears all the more heartbreaking. An elegant musical soundtrack underscores the emotional highs and lows.
And Wasikowska is nothing short of amazing—and inspiring—as a strong-hearted 19th century heroine who refuses to see her painful past as a “tale of woe.”
At a full two hours, it’s a bit sluggish in the middle, and it has little to offer anyone whose movie appetite requires something with a few more contemporary jolts and volts. But if you’re a sucker for a love story that never seems to grow old, one that continues to resonate with audiences in a world far more modern than Charlotte Brontë could have ever imaged, this “poor, obscure, plain and little” Brit-lit lassie can still run away with your heart.