Modern retelling just burns with sex appeal
Jane Eyre 8.30pm, ABC
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.
Touch of noir: Ruth Wilson as Jane and Toby Stephens as Edward Rochester