Jane Eyre Review: Tough Love

Jane Eyre: On General Release From Friday 9th September

The chill in the air and the grey sky above me tells me that soon we shall be fully immersed in the most wonderful time of year: Oscar season. Yes, it’s almost time for leading ladies to play down their looks and work with an accent while the gents will parade around as emotionally damaged men with an enormous obstacle to overcome. Of course no Oscar season would be complete without the obligatory period piece and the latest adaptation of Jane Eyre is this year’s first entry.

Director Cary Fukunaga first had the industry buzzing after the success of his feature debut, Sin Nombre, but he’d clearly managed to say the right things to the right people as he won the job of director on Jane Eyre. He may not be an obvious choice of director for a British classic but he’s a damn good one. Cary’s a bright young talent with the chops to handle this depressing tale from Charlotte Bronte which follows the incredibly bleak life of Jane Eyre, played by Alice in Wonderland’s Mia Wasikowska.

Jane’s childhood is plagued by misfortune and the cruelty of those whose care she is placed in, including her aunt Mrs. Reed, played by an unusually cold and malicious Sally Hawkins in a small yet striking performance. After lashing out at her older cousin after a particularly painful incident, Jane is branded a liar whose wild behaviour means she is surely bound for the gates of Hell unless she is re-educated. Cue years of physical and emotional torment in a religious girl’s school.

Her first job in the real world finds her employed as a governess to the young ward of Mr. Rochester (Michael Fassbender) and friend to lonely housekeeper Mrs. Fairfax (Judi Dench). In the interest of full disclosure, I’ve never read the original novel nor seen any previous adaptation of Bronte’s work but I am reliably informed of a few things by those who have that Rochester is supposed to be an ugly man whose curt manner is mistaken for cruelty but he’s ultimately able to woo Jane by treating her as an equal. Unfortunately, the movie fails by having the not unattractive Michael Fassbender as Rochester, thus framing Jane’s attraction to him as a young girl’s crush on the bad boy – not something great romances are made of. It gives the film a juvenile quality as there is little evidence of any real love between the two, despite the actors’ valiant effort.

Mia Wasikowska does a fine job as the classic heroine whose pale complexion and frail form mask the brave and independent spirit within Jane. She shines in softer moments yet struggles occasionally under the weight of the more dramatic plot points but is, on the whole, a solid performer. Dench’s housekeeper is of course perfection, supplying the motherly warmth that has been so sorely lacking in Jane’s life. Fassbender is every mother’s nightmare as the devilishly attractive and brooding Rochester but fails to make a convincing love interest for the straight-laced, clear-headed Jane.

The moody cinematography by Fukunaga favourite Adriano Goldman is perfectly matched for the story, providing a bleak British backdrop for Jane’s tale of woe. It’s just a shame that Moira Buffini’s script isn’t up to the task too, lacking dramatic tension and spending too much time on an irrelevant subplot involving Jamie Bell. Meandering and moody, Jane Eyre proves to be an inessential addition to this year’s Oscar season.

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