Mod­ern retelling just burns with sex ap­peal

Jane Eyre 8.30pm, ABC

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Tv -

THE open­ing three min­utes of this new BBC adap­ta­tion of Char­lotte Bronte’s novel Jane Eyre are slightly un­nerv­ing. We all know what we should be ex­pect­ing, don’t we? Bon­nets and a lit­tle bit of mad­ness.

But this ver­sion quickly veers in style be­tween Lawrence of Ara­bia, The Ex­or­cist and Oliver Twist. Ob­vi­ously di­rec­tor Susanna White wants to put us off kil­ter im­me­di­ately and shake us out of any ex­pected stu­por. The points to be made are that this is not an­other sonorous pe­riod drama and young Jane liked a bit of fan­tasy.

The first 15 min­utes is not ex­actly en­dear­ing and we’ve seen it be­fore: more kids be­ing treated in a das­tardly fash­ion in Vic­to­rian Eng­land and more child ac­tors strug­gling to meet the de­mands of that pe­cu­liar time.

Stick with it, though, be­cause the young Jane Eyre ( Ge­orgie Hen­ley) is quickly left to head back to the Chron­i­cles of Nar­nia film se­ries and, in a deft scene change, Ruth Wil­son steps in as an older, calmer and, it must be said, more mod­ern- look­ing, nay hot­ter, Jane Eyre than we’ve pre­vi­ously been used to view­ing or, per­ish the thought, read­ing about.

The pro­gram then picks up a head of steam as Jane, the new gov­erness at Thorn­field Hall, meets by chance the owner of the house, Ed­ward Rochester ( Toby Stephens), in slightly gloomy cir­cum­stances be­fore a more for­mal greet­ing in a slightly gloomy draw­ing room.

This is a very cin­e­matic adap­ta­tion, ow­ing as much to film noir or early Al­fred Hitch­cock as it does to the frills and puffery pe­riod dra­mas of the BBC’s past.

As with any pe­riod adap­ta­tion nowa­days, it is be­ing billed as a sexy, ro­man­tic, darker thing. That it is. Wil­son’s Jane is a more cap­ti­vat­ing spec­i­men than Bronte’s Jane and Stephens is a dis­tinct man of the house in the fash­ion of Pride and Prej­u­dice’s Mr Darcy, Colin Firth.

His is a very mod­ern Rochester, a malev­o­lent but al­lur­ing char­ac­ter. It is a cap­ti­vat­ing per­for­mance that works won­der­fully against Wil­son’s re­straint. The two leads are the se­ries’ true de­light. The scenes of their grow­ing re­la­tion­ship are well played. They al­most em­bar­rass some of the gothic har­rumph­ing in the big­ger ex­ter­nal set pieces.

Yet any vis­ual rep­re­sen­ta­tion of Jane is al­ways bound by her lone­li­ness and nar­ra­tor’s voice in the novel. With­out any real buddy on screen or nar­ra­tion, Wil­son is given a tough task to por­tray the go­ings- on in Jane’s fer­tile mind.

I’m also not sure the minis­eries is well served by be­ing run in two twohour blocks by the ABC. Back in the old coun­try, it orig­i­nally ran as four one- hour episodes. Hav­ing got through the first two hours of its dense pro­duc­tion and dark de­meanour, I’m sure au­di­ences would have pre­ferred one- hour shots.

That said, this is an­other fine BBC adap­ta­tion that doesn’t quite scale the heights but de­liv­ers a faith­ful Eyre.

Michael Bodey

Touch of noir: Ruth Wil­son as Jane and Toby Stephens as Ed­ward Rochester

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