Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Cary Fukunaga
Stars: Mia Wasikowska, Sally Hwkins, Michael Fassbender, Jamie Bell, Judi Dench.
This is the umpteenth version of Charlotte Bronte’s classic novel of a plain, obscure and poor orphan girl who lands a job as a governess and eventually captures the heart of her mysterious employer. This 22nd version of the timeless Gothic romance is a visually sumptuous and handsomely mounted production, but it is also quite bland and dull. Technical contributions are excellent, from Adriano Goldman’s gorgeous cinematography, to Will Hughes-Jones’ stunning production design and Michael O’Connor’s costumes. Director Cary Fukunaga (the excellent Mexican drama Sin Nombre, etc) brings a foreboding atmosphere to Thornfield, Rochester’s imposing, dark and brooding home.
When we first meet Jane she is scrambling across a rain soaked and windswept moor before arriving at the home of St John Rivers (Jamie Bell, from Billy Elliott, etc), who takes her in and cares for her. Then in an extended flashback we learn how she came to be there. Cast out of home by her spiteful aunt (Sally Hawkins) Jane is sent to the austere Lowood Charity School and orphanage. We get a brief glimpse of the appalling conditions and treatment she endures before she is hired as governess to Rochester’s young ward.
Having previously played Alice in Tim Burton’s visually bold version of Alice In Wonderland, Australian actress Mia Wasikowska seems to be the current go to girl for playing virginal heroines of English literature. And she delivers a nicely nuanced performance in a role that has previously been played by the likes of Joan Fontaine, Charlotte Gainsbourg and the late Susannah York. Michael Fassbender (from the recent X-Men First Class, etc) makes for a handsome Mr Rochester, but his performance is fairly perfunctory. In previous versions Mr Rochester has been far more formidable and overbearing, and quite often older. In previous versions the character has been played by George C Scott, Timothy Dalton, Ciaran Hinds and, in the memorable 1943 adaptation, Orson Welles brought his own unique power to the role. There is a lack of passion and fire between the two leads, which also holds the film back.
Judi Dench brings her usual class to her performance as Mrs Fairfax, the kindly housekeeper.
Moira Buffini’s screenplay is surprisingly atmospheric and literate, and has pared the novel back to the essentials. However, it is virtually impossible to fit Bronte’s novel into a two-hour movie, which is why the tale is best suited to the mini-series format, and the 1973 epic mini-series is arguably the best version. We are still waiting for the definitive big screen adaptation of Jane Eyre.