Sunday, 19 June 2011

Various 'Jane Eyre' adaptations (1983, 1996, 2006)

Last night I went to see X-Men: First Class which I really enjoyed. It's the best X-Men movie that's been made in a long time. It's a lot of fun, I loved the '60s feel of it and it's really well-acted. James McAvoy, Kevin Bacon and Michael Fassbender stood out in particular and were all excellent.

Now you may well be wondering at this point as to how exactly Jane Eyre ties in with the latest X-Men film. Well, this is because Michael Fassbender (who plays Magneto in the film) will be playing Mr Rochester in the new Jane Eyre movie adaptation. After liking his acting in X-Men I'm looking forward to his take on Rochester for the Jane Eyre movie. Judi Dench and Jamie Bell are going to be in it too, as well as Mia Wasikowska. Hmm... I didn't think much of her acting in Alice in Wonderland but I'm willing to give her the benefit of the doubt. The film won't come out over here in the UK until September but it's been released in the US and most of the reviews say it's good even if the plot events don't happen in the same order as the novel. I'm cautiously optimistic. I love the characters and romance of Charlotte Bronte's novel (one of my favourite books) and I've already seen three adaptations of it. One is a movie and two are TV adaptations. Here's my review of them from worst to best.

The worst adaptation that I've seen is without doubt the 1996 film, which was directed by Franco Zefferelli and stars Charlotte Gainsbourg and William Hurt. The film has some nice cinematography and it does actually start off quite well. Anna Paquin is really good as Young Jane Eyre and is feisty yet vulnerable. Fiona Shaw is really good as Mrs Reed too. I think it helps that she played Aunt Petunia in the Harry Potter movies! So the early part of the film that covers Jane's childhood years I actually like. Unfortunately I really dislike the rest of the film because both of the adult leads are miscast. Charlotte Gainsbourg looks the part and does a competent job at portraying the quiet, reserved side of Jane's character - but she does so at the expense of showing us Jane's passionate, determined side. As a result her Jane just comes across as being really cold and emotionless and boring. Gainsbourg's portrayal is also jarring given how passionate Anna Paquin's Young Jane is. However, at least Gainsbourg's acting is better than William Hurt's Rochester. His acting is bloody awful in this movie! He looks bored, he mumbles throughout and his Rochester bears no relation whatsoever to the Rochester of the book. He doesn't even look like Book Rochester! He's blonde-haired and blue-eyed for crying out loud! There is absolutely NO chemistry between him and Gainsbourg either. The proposal scene is lacking in any sort of passion and even the kissing looks forced (e.g. their lips don't really touch). Hurt never shows us Rochester's brooding side or the character's sense of humour. His Rochester is just completely flat and emotionless. If I hadn't read the book then I'd probably have wondered how Jane ended up falling in love with him! This is the only Jane Eyre adaptation that I've seen where I actually wanted Jane to marry St John Rivers. Fans of the book will know how very bad this is! Also, Elle MacPherson plays Blanche Ingram in this film and she really can't act. 2/5

Next up is the most recent TV adaptation of Jane Eyre: the 2006 version done by the BBC. This version was written by Sandy Welch. I'm a fan of hers since she also wrote the recent BBC adaptations of Emma and North and South which I loved (especially the latter!). I think this particular adaptation of hers is her weakest. Again, this is a version that's great visually and Ruth Wilson gives an excellent performance as Jane despite looking too old and mature for the role. There's no way she could pass for 18. However, they made her look plain in this and she really did give a great performance. Unfortunately there are just too many weird departures from the book for me to enjoy this version. The Ouija Board scene for example is just, so, so, so stupid! And why on earth is there a scene where Jane and Rochester are rolling around on a bed together kissing?! Charlotte Bronte must be rolling around in her grave! I'm not fond of Toby Stephen's portrayal of Rochester either. His Rochester seemed too mellow and light-hearted and the way he played Rochester was nothing at all like how I imagined the character in the book. At times Stephens reminds me of Hugh Grant! : S However, at least he had chemistry with Wilson and his acting was still better than William Hurt's. This version is by no means terrible but I can't see myself watching it again. 3/5

Now I've come to the best adaptation of Jane Eyre: the 1983 version which was also made by the BBC. Although this is the best adaptation I've seen it's by no means perfect and it hasn't aged very well. It was filmed in the 1980s and - like most BBC adaptations from the 1970s and 1980s - the sets, costumes, cinematography and direction now looks very dated and stagey. Also, Timothy Dalton is far too good-looking to play Rochester from a purist's point of view. However, although he is too good-looking, at least he's dark-haired and dark-eyed and looks brooding enough to play the master of Thornfield. And I can't fault his acting. He does a great job playing the character and really brings Rochester to life. He had chemistry with Zelah Clarke and he even did a believable gypsy scene! I didn't like Zelah Clark's performance as Jane much at first but her acting grew on me as the series progressed. Ruth Wilson is my favourite Jane but I do like Clarke as well. This version is also the most faithful to the book. Hardly anything is left out and many of the lines are word-for-word accurate quotes from the book. It doesn't rush the early scenes where Young Jane is at Gateshead or Lowood or the scenes where Jane is staying at the Rivers cottage either. I still have a while to wait before I see this new Jane Eyre adaptation but if you're only going to see one Jane Eyre adaptation then this is the one to watch. 4/5


Traxy said...

I don't think Dalton was too handsome for the part. Rochester isn't necessarily ugly, just not beautiful by the standards of the day, which favoured men who weer blonde with a Grecian profile.

Also, have you seen the 1973 BBC version starring Michael Jayston (another one with wrong hair colour) and Sorcha Cusack? Follows the book excrutiatingly well! :)

Indigo Montoya said...

Hi! I'm sorry that I've only just noticed your comment!

I haven't seen the 1973 BBC version but I will try to seek it out. Have you seen the 1940s version with Joan Fontaine and Orson Welles. I saw a little bit of it on Film4 the other day and it looked quite good.

Geneva said...

I couldn't even make myself watch the 2006 version. I happened to catch the "rolling in the bed" scene and I was so angry with it I just refuse to watch the rest. However, I agree with you on the other two. Anna Paquin was great as young Jane, and yes, Timothy Dalton is too handsome, but that's okay with me! (Although, Traxy has a point about Grecian looks being popular, so he does still fit.)

Have you gotten a chance yet to see the 2011 version? There are a few important events missing, but you have to make concessions since there are time constraints. I think they chose to leave a few things out because modern audiences would find it too silly, like the gypsy scene, and the fact that she and the Rivers are cousins.

Overall, though, I think it's practically perfect. The acting is terrific; you can see emotions and thoughts flash across their faces and it's very subtle and realistic. There are also some very interesting shots. For instance, in the party scene while Blanche and the others are disparaging governesses the camera focuses on the back of Jane's neck. Everything else is out of focus so you really feel Jane's discomfort. It's a very smart technique, we feel intimately connected to Jane and her pain.

The 2011 version is tied with 1983 for my favorite. When you want a (practically) straight by the book version you go with 1983 and when you don't have that much time then 2011 is perfect.

Hannah said...

Wow, we think exactly the same about these things! You're the first person I've spoken to who isn't a fan of the 2006 version! I could hug you right now! :) A lot of JE fans are calling the 2006 version the definitive adaptation these days but it's so overrated imo. I wouldn't call it a bad adaptation but I wouldn't call it a great one either. I think it's only OK and that the screenwriter Sandy Welch can do a lot better. I absolutely LOVE her adaptations of North and South & Emma, the former is probably my favourite BBC miniseries :)

And you love the 2011 version too! That film doesn't seem to be very popular with most of the book fans and I really don't know why. Yes it is a film adaptation so of course they had to leave certain things out but I still thought that they did a terrific with condensing the story and that the spirit of the book was intact. And I loved Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender's performances and their chemistry. Yes... if I'm in the mood for a lengthy and more accurate adaptation I'd go for the 1983 version and if I want a quick dose of the story I'd go for the 2011 version.

Have you seen The Autobiography of Jane Eyre by any chance? It's a web series adaptation of the book that's set in the modern day. It was inspired by The Lizzie Bennet Diaries. I don't know if you've seen that? I really love both of these adaptations and I'd definitely recommend them :)

Geneva said...

I will have to check out the Autobiography of Jane Eyre. I've tried watching the Lizzie Bennet Diaries but I get this claustrophobic feeling from it since it's all webcam, so it kind of bothers me.

I can't believe people don't love the 2011 version! I forgot to mention I also really liked that they started with her wandering away from Thornfield. It kick-starts the movie with a bit if a mystery and it puts some excitement in the less exciting scenes with the Rivers. Wasikowska and Fassbender do have great chemistry, I love how he looks at her like she is something precious to him. He completely captures Rochester with those looks.

And oh my god, I LOVE LOVE North and South. I knew basically nothing about it when I first watched it in my Gaskell box set and I was blown away. And Richard Armitage! When he watches her leave and commands her to turn back. Oh man, that was heartbreaking. I still haven't read the book, but it's on my list. I'm sort of saving it because I'm afraid it won't live up to expectations!

Hannah said...

I really enjoyed the opening to the 2011 version too! I didn't have a problem with it all for all of the reasons that you said! I only wish that they could have thrown in a quick montage of Jane being shunned by villagers on the moors, just to show that she doesn't immediately stumble across a sympathetic family.
And, again, I love Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender in this film! I was blown away by Mia. I didn't like her acting in Alice in Wonderland at all so I was quite nervous about her playing Jane but she proved me wrong. And Fassbender is MY Rochester now :)

I really would recommend Elizabeth Gaskell's North and South. You'll get to read Margaret and Thornton's inner thoughts for one thing and I think it would actually make you appreciate the miniseries more. I love both the book and the 2004 adaptation equally. That's quite rare for me because usually I much prefer books to their adaptations! I read the book first, loved it, and then I saw the adaptation and loved that too.

The 2004 adaptation is mostly very faithful to the book but there are some differences between them. I don't actually mind the changes that the 2004 adaptation made though. I feel Sandy Welch recognised that certain scenes from the book wouldn't have worked on screen and changed things around to suit the format, but I also feel that she was very respectful to the book and that she had a lot of love for it.