Breath of fresh Eyre
SINCE the dawn of cinema, there have been 18 feature-length adaptations of Charlotte Bronte’s classic 1847 novel Jane Eyre.
Chances are most viewers have been here, seen that, and will not be easily impressed by a new production.
Such standoffishness will last all of one minute once eyes are clapped on Mia Wasikowska in the title role.
This gifted Australian actress takes an imposing, time-honoured part and makes it her very own with both sheer presence and a carefully controlled force of will. The film chooses an unusual entry point into its familiar plot: Jane’s traumatic leaving of
Thornfield Hall, the sprawling country estate where she has worked as a governess since surviving a cruel and emotionally barren childhood.
Exhausted and distraught to the brink of total collapse, Jane lands on the doorstep of a trainee pastor named St John Rivers ( Jamie Bell).
Rivers nurses his bedraggled house guest back to health and gradually presses for the reasons surrounding her mysterious arrival.
Politely, but firmly, Miss Eyre cuts short all lines of questioning.
Nevertheless, answers are still forthcoming: piece by piece, a jigsaw of flashbacks begins to take shape.
We see Jane as an orphan child, banished from what is left of the family fold by a spiteful aunt ( Sally Hawkins).
We see Jane holding firm to her values throughout her education at a boarding school, best likened to a religious prison, despite being pronounced as worthless on a daily basis. Then comes her fateful tenure at Thornfield Hall, where Jane’s first taste of freedom is tainted by her relationship with the master of the manor, Mr Rochester ( played by Michael Fassbender).
Older, worldlier, but perhaps not wiser than his new 18-yearold employee, the remote and inscrutable Rochester does not know what to make of Jane. But he is intrigued. As for Jane, fiercely independent yet achingly vulnerable, life at Thornfield becomes a minefield of untapped emotions. With each step, she is intimidated, enamoured and infuriated by Rochester.
Both characters have their defences ramped up and their true feelings tamped down. Both also have their secrets which, should they be revealed, may drive them apart forever.
Director Cary Fukunara and screenwriter Moira Buffini have skilfully truncated Bronte’s hefty novel without losing any of its essential force.
The shifting ground underneath Jane and Rochester’s rocky relationship is expertly handled by Wasikowska and Fassbender ( both pictured), who click on levels beyond those found in regulation costume drama.
Like its implacable heroine, this impeccable version of Jane Eyre will not rest until certain truths are dispensed, certain lies are dismissed and certainty as a whole is achieved.