“Jane Eyre”: Fassbender does the Full Brontë

Before I went to see the new version of Jane Eyre at the cinema, I read an interview with the producer, Alison Owen, in which she set out her reasons for commissioning the screenplay:

It’s been my favourite book since I was 11 or so and I’ve always felt that it has been underserved by the movies.

If her definition of “underserved” is 18 film versions (as far back as a 1910 silent movie), then I fear she needs to promptly re-examine her life standards before she’s bitterly disappointed by something as trivial as a Mars bar “fun size.” Everyone knows the basic plot-points of Jane Eyre. It’s the cinematic equivalent of chewing gum: sweet on the tongue, but swiftly discarded and forgotten.

Luckily, though, this film has a lasting flavour: a competent screenplay fused with a stellar cast (notable performances by the two leads) and the unassuming directorial eye of Cary Fukanaga.

Exemplifying the youthful/naive mannerisms of the heroine, Mia Wasikowska plays a powerful and expressive Jane Eyre. She was a little too weepy in parts, though, which probably owes more to script orders (tears = cheers) and the need for a more clear-cut exploration of emotion. Nevertheless, she compels the audience to believe that forbidden love is possible. Excuse the pun, but she’s no plain Jane. She beautifully balances the unwavering strength and the innate timidity that is so clear in the novel. That she does not exist in my sorry life, in the dark and damp multi-storey carpark of Newcastle-under-Lyme’s cinema complex, seems like mankind’s keenest tragedy.

The stand-out performance, however, was from Michael Fassbender, an actor who continues to amaze me with his versatility (seeming at home in the subversive skin of Bobby Sands in ‘Hunger’ and playing the understated sex-on-a-stick in Arnold’s much-acclaimed ‘Fish Tank’ last year.) He is a magically smouldering Mr Rochester; his onscreen electricity with Wasikowska felt genuinely soulful and his sheer intensity is not over-acting, but a divine gift. The billowing torch Mia and him bear along the stormy midnight plain of love and woe makes my tragically fruitless interactions with members of the opposite sex (maybe because I continue to refer to them as “members of the opposite sex”) look like a miniature flashlight shoplifted from the Millets of my imagination, whose only true light is its own flaming torture.

Just a quick mention of plot (I’m not one, like Ebert, who describes almost every twist and turn so that his readers are left with nothing but the rotting carcass of cinema verité): Instead of following the linear narrative of the novel, the film begins half-way through and then uses Eyre’s memory as the vehicle of the plot’s chronology. This is not too fragmentary – it’s just a couple of skips in time – and audience sentiment is guided by her direct thoughts on her past. After all, this is arguably a pre-feminist bildungsroman and never is she portrayed as a damsel in distress. As a whole, I think it worked well: we are plunged into media res from the beginning in order to establish a sense of urgency and immediacy surrounding her life story and we want to know more.

I urge you to go and see Jane Eyre, if you’re willing to relearn how pathetic, impotent, shallow and empty your own experience of love has been.


One Comment on ““Jane Eyre”: Fassbender does the Full Brontë”

  1. I’m just reading the book right now, and jane eyre is pretty good so far. It doesn’t seem much like a chick flick book so far, but it may later on. Thanks for your review on the movie, I think i’ll see it.

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