I have seen the 1940's Jane Eyre with Orson Welles and Joan Fontaine, and own the 1983 version (Timothy Dalton, Zelah Clarke) as well as the 1997 version with Ciaran Hinds and Samantha Morton, and all I can say for this adaptation in comparison is.... ehhhh.
I wish I liked it more. I really, really wanted to. I have been a fan of Toby Stephens since Napoleon (his young Tsar Alexander is amazingly powerful) and like Jane Eyre anyway, but just couldn't bring myself to really like this adaptation. Beyond the great production values and cinematography, I kept hearing myself thinking, "What???" and wondering how lost I'd be if I hadn't read the book already.
For instance -- No childhood at the beginning (later we get a 30 second flashback of "Not the red room!" when as an adult Jane returns to Mrs. Reed's bedside, which didn't do much for me).
No intensity to Lowood scenes, or conveyance of their importance in shaping Jane's character. Toward the end of the film when Jane accepts St. John River's offer of a teaching job, she does so on condition of "no beatings", which would have been incredibly puzzling to me if I weren't already familiar with the book and seemed served up more as an afterthought than anything else.
The exaggeration of Blanche's mother into a fully speaking role but without any real reason: once she mentioned her dislike of governesses the first time, there was little to no point in her being there or saying anything. A waste of Francesca Annis, honestly.
No real explanation of how Jane got from Thornfield to Moor House (she lies down on her bed in her room at Thornfield and wakes up disheveled and worse for wear on the moors, at which point she is scooped up by St. John Rivers); it is handled inadequately via brief flashback.
I can't comment on the ouija board scene because I fast forwarded through it. 'Nuff said.
The gypsy scene? Timothy Dalton did that one best, hands down. Toby could have handled playing a gypsy; I am sorry they did not give him opportunity.
The scene where St. John tells Jane they are cousins and explains their relationship, etc: the whole thing was handled almost as an afterthought, almost as though she'd won the lotto but it wasn't really important. Because they did not build up her childhood, either at Gateshead or Lowood, much of what happens later falls flat. Again, if I had not already read the book....
On the casting: I really like Toby Stephens and think him a fine actor. But he was just too gentle and too good looking for this role, I think. Timothy Dalton was also too good looking for the role, but was enough of a bastard that he got it right, as was Orson Welles. Ciaran Hinds was a great Rochester all around. But this Rochester... too much whupped and not enough angry, IMO. The scene where he drags the wedding party back to the house to "meet the wife" was quiet, calm even. So, so wrong.
Also, a small point, but this St. John Rivers was far too likable. He just didn't read cold to me, but warm trying to play cold. His interactions with Jane completely lacked tension; he didn't appear to be upset that she didn't accept his proposal, and she didn't appear too upset that he'd asked without love. It all had an, "Oh, okay, whatever you want..." feel to it. Again, so, so wrong.
This Jane, Ruth Wilson, was not bad... but not the best. As another letter writer noted, she lacked Zelah Clarke's little smile and inner spark, and her face was simply strange to me. (I didn't like Samantha Morton's Jane either, for much the same reasons.) But I will give her this. Of all the times I have heard the lines:
"Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain, and little, I am soulless and heartless? You think wrong! -- I have as much soul as you, -- and full as much heart! And if God had gifted me with some beauty and much wealth, I should have made it as hard for you to leave me, as it is now for me to leave you!"
no other actress has brought me to tears with it as this one did. That was one awesome bit of acting!
So, four out of ten. It was watchable, it was interesting, but I won't save the tape or buy the DVD. Great production values, visually interesting and attractive, but not true to the story (much less the book) and somewhat miscast.
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