Wednesday, September 18, 2013

In which I talk A LOT about Jane Eyre movies

It’s no secret that I love “Jane Eyre.” And it really doesn’t take much to get me in the mood to read or watch it. So after reading this post over at Angieville about Jane Eyre adaptations, I decided that what I really needed was a Jane Eyre marathon. So this weekend I took it upon myself to re-watch four of the better-known versions. I’ve never watched all of them in a row before, so I ended up comparing them way more than I usually do. So here's more than you ever wanted to know about what I think of the four:

Timothy Dalton version (1983):
This version is all about Rochester for me. Timothy Dalton will always be the real Mr. Rochester in my mind. Maybe it’s because he’s the first version of Rochester I encountered, but I also think he plays Rochester closest to how he is in the book. The other film versions tone down Rochester a bit to make him a more sympathetic character, but Dalton’s Rochester is just as abrupt and unstable and ridiculous as the real deal. This film adaption also has the full-on gypsy scene, which the other three versions don’t, and everyone one knows the gypsy scene is one of the best parts of the book. However, the Jane in this version is my least favorite of the four. She comes off as bland and anemic to me, and I never feel like I get a true sense of who she is or what she wants. She’s totally upstaged by Rochester. This version feels the most staged and rehearsed of the four, but since it’s so long, it’s able to follow the original plot the closest.

William Hurt version (1996):
To say this version is freely adapted is a bit of an understatement. For the sake of trying to fit the story into two hours, quite a bit gets changed and condensed, especially towards the end. They’re not bad changes, but they’re changes all the same, and the part of me that wants the film to stay true to the book always gets a little offended. Jane in this version is gentle and all wide-eyed innocence, and while that’s not the way I usually imagine her when I read the book, it’s actually kind of a refreshing take on her. William Hurt as Rochester is . . . old. I know he’s supposed to be, but in this version you can definitely see the age difference between him and Jane. It’s always a bit shocking, even more so than in the Michael Fassbender version. One thing that stands out to me from this version is the actress who plays Jane as a child. Usually the childhood scenes feel endless in Jane Eyre adaptions, but this actress is interesting to watch, and after the scene where she gets her hair cut, she seriously becomes one of the cutest children ever.

Toby Stephens version (2006):
I totally fell in love with this adaptation this time around. Toby Stephens makes an adorable Mr. Rochester. He plays Rochester as much more personable than he is in the other film versions or the book. It’s easy to see why Jane falls for him—Stephen’s Rochester has brooding and rude moments but he also has moments of humor and playfulness. He’s less spoiled and more self-deprecating, and the drama of his relationship with Jane is tempered by their bits of banter and teasing. They’re always giving each other these little smiles and it’s so dang cute. This version of Jane is my favorite of the four. Ruth Wilson’s Jane is reserved and quiet, but she isn’t totally serious. She’s not afraid to needle Mr. Rochester, and that scene after the proposal when she goes to her room and smiles to herself is perfect. And oh my gosh, the final scene of the movie is everything I could ask for in terms of swooniness.

Michael Fassbender version (2011):
The version is the best of the four at capturing the gothic feel of the novel. All that mist and dark and dreary scenery is perfect. Mia Wasikowska’s Jane is very pensive and solemn. Even after the proposal, her happiness is very cautious, like she isn’t quite able to trust it. Neither Jane nor Rochester have much of a sense of humor in this adaptation—you can feel the weight of their pasts on their present, and that weight seems to prevent any levity. Michael Fassbender’s Rochester doesn’t stand out to me much. He’s perfectly adequate in the role, but Jane jumps out as a character much more. And this version, while generally staying true to the book, cuts out quite a bit of the plot. Some of these cuts are done really well though, and I especially like how the scenes with the Rivers family are interspersed throughout, rather than dragging down the middle of the movie. However, I also feel that a lot of the relationship between Jane and Rochester gets axed, so I don’t find their love quite as believable overall.

Basically, here’s the takeaway: The Timothy Dalton version is probably my favorite, just because it’s the one I grew up with and because Dalton’s Rochester is the Rochester of my heart. The Toby Stephens version was a lovely surprise this time around, as the chemistry between the two leads is wonderful and there’s quite a bit of humor. This is the version I’d recommend to anyone who hasn’t had any experience with Jane Eyre before. The William Hurt and Michael Fassbender versions are the shortest, so that’s their biggest draw for me, though I prefer the Michael Fassbender version because it stays truer to the original plot.

So what do you think? Agree? Disagree? Which movie version do you like best?


  1. I think you've reminded me I'm fonder of Dalton as Rochester than I thought I was. Need to rewatch it. But I definitely remember not being enamored of her as Jane.

    Yeah, the age gap is so pronounced in the 1996 one, but I really liked her. And I think Hurt brought some of the crazy from the book. Not all, but some. :)

    The 2006 one falls short for me with her as well. I just couldn't like her for some reason. And I liked him too much, but kept feeling like I shouldn't. Lol.

    And so I think the 2011 is my favorite. But only a marathon re-watch will tell for sure!

  2. I've only seen the Michael Fassbender one as well as the 1940s version with Joan Fontaine and Orson Welles and I don't remember really loving either. I tend to like lighter films so the less humorous JE story isn't one I watch a lot. I would really like to check out the Toby Stephens version just because I've heard a lot about it.


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