Breath of fresh Eyre

Sunday Tasmanian - Tassie Living - - Movies - LEIGH PAATSCH

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.

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