A few afternoons ago I decided to watch Franco Zeffirelli's adaptation of Jane Eyre. I have read the novel many times, I've done a little bit of academic scholarship on it, and I've even taught the novel a few times, so I feel like I can say that I know the novel pretty well. I thought I would feel a communion with this adaptation because it was released in 1996, the same year I read the novel for the first time. And Roger Ebert has high praise for this version, giving it 3.5 out of 4 stars. These were all good signs, so I pressed play and was soon knee deep in Gothic intrigue and romance.
Jane Eyre is quite a long novel, but this film is not. It's a little less than two hours long. The film begins with her aunt Mrs. Reed locking Jane into the ominous Red Room, where, in true Gothic fashion, her Uncle Reed died. After a short but absolutely beautiful opening score, Jane is visited by Mr. Brocklehurst and sent off to Lowood where she befriends the consumptive Helen Burns, experiences loss when Helen dies, grows up and makes her way to Thornfield, all in about 25 minutes. And the pacing issues continue throughout the entire film; the whole thing feels very rushed. It is, in my opinion, the film's biggest fault.However, the rushing gets us to the juicy parts with Jane and Rochester, which are always my favorite bits, so it's not all bad. And whoever did the casting for this movie really nailed it. I can be a purist when it comes to film adaptations of novels, so I always appreciate when an adaption of Jane Eyre sticks to the spirit of the book. Charlotte Gainsbourg's Jane is styled as appropriately young and plain (in the novel Jane is only eighteen years old and she describes herself as plain and decidedly not pretty). And I can appreciate a young, handsome, and sexy Rochester as much as the next person (Michael Fassbender's Rochester: rawr!) but Rochester is supposed to be twenty years older than Jane, and William Hurt's Rochester delivers. Gainsbourg's Jane and Hurt's Rochester meet and have delightfully pithy conversations with one another. But then, Jane saves Rochester's life and the smoldering, brooding glances at one another and passionate hand holding begins, and I turn into an eighteen year old girl again and sail off into a cloud of romance.
|The first of several passionate hand holding incidents|
So temporarily eighteen year old Barbi ignores the fact the Rochester is actually really manipulative and revels in their passionate, torrid romance until secret mad wife Bertha's inevitable appearance ruins everything. And temporarily eighteen year old Barbi kind of wants Jane to stay with Rochester and continue their passionate love affair, but adult Barbi realizes that Jane is really awesome for leaving because she is staying true to herself, her ethics, and her desire for independence and equality even though she's desperately in love with Rochester and it kills her to leave him. And then there's Jane pining away for Rochester and the bit with the Rivers, which is never my favorite part because there's no romance. And just like Rochester, Sinjun Rivers tries to impose his will on Jane, which is no good because clearly Jane belongs with Rochester. But my girl Jane is made of stronger stuff and after she miraculously inherits a fortune from her dead uncle, she leaves the Rivers and goes back to Rochester who has, luckily for Jane, been widowed during their time apart after Bertha burns down Thornfield and commits suicide by jumping from the roof. Rochester has also been injured, but he's still sexy looking because he's movie injured. Movie injured Rochester is blind (movie Rochesters, like the Rochester of the novel, are always blind by the end of the novel) but he only has some slight scarring on his face. Book injured Mr. Rochester has lost his sight in the fire and is pretty seriously maimed. But both movie Rochester and book Rochester are grumpy and bitter because they're waiting for Jane to come so that they can continue with all of the romance.
But even though the casting is excellent, and there's passionate, smoldering romance, the rushed pacing of the film drove me nuts. Maybe people who haven't read Jane Eyre like this version. It is very beautifully made. I'm sure I didn't like this film because I've read the book so many times. This adaptation pales in comparison to its source material. After I finished watching the film, I went to rate it and saw that I had already given it two stars. So at some point I must have seen this film, disliked it enough to rate it poorly, and blotted the experience out the memory.
However, I won't forget it this time because
a. I felt the need to watch other versions of Jane Eyre to negate the effect of this one.
b. I wrote this blog.
c. I decided that I watch as many versions of Jane Eyre as possible, and upon watching other versions realized that some of them are actually straight up terrible.