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Saturday, April 9

Jane Eyre 2011: A Review by Two

Inquiring readers, Jean from Delightful Repast and I exchanged our thoughts about the new Jane Eyre film adaptation. I thought you might be interested in our discussion, which began with Jean's question about what I thought of the film.

Jean, rarely do I see a film on opening day, but I rushed to see Jane Eyre. Others did too, for our local art house theatre was full. My initial reaction was that the first half of the film was missing. We meet St.John and his sisters first, but without proper introduction, so that the viewer who had not read the book would be totally mystified and were probably left wondering for the rest of the film: who were these people and why should I care? What did you think about the film's structure?
Vic, what structure? Did it have structure? "Mystified" is a good word for what the people in my group were who had not read the book or seen other versions. I saw the film with five friends with varying degrees of familiarity with the story. Two of us had seen nearly every version ever made.

You see, I had already started a Jane Eyre "festival" of my own when I heard a new version would be coming out in March. A friend who had only seen the William Hurt version (and loved it) discovered that I was a lifelong Jane Eyre aficionado and wanted to see it with me. When I told her about the other versions, she wanted to see those as well. So through fall and winter we did just that. My husband called us The Eyre-heads! So the two of us were in a position to know how a Jane Eyre film should be "structured"!
Wow, Jean, you are a true fan! While I have seen all the Jane Eyre film adaptations (I loved the 2006 version with Toby Stevens and Ruth Wilson), I did not prepare myself as thoroughly as your group. I thought the costumes and sets were gorgeous, and found the acting more than adequate (who can quibble with Judi Dench as housekeeper? Michael Fassbender as a hunky Rochester? and Mia Wasikowska as a not so very plain Jane?), but I was totally flummoxed by the choppiness of the script. So very little introduction was provided to explain the characters' actions, that I was glad I had read the book more than once. Woe betide those who expected a coherent story.

I first read the book when I was seven and read it many times after that. This film, sad to say, bore no resemblance to the book. We went in prepared to love it, but just couldn't. The acting was good, yes, but there was just something "off," something missing. I liked Michael Fassbender--I'm sure I would like him very much in other things--but he was not Mr. Rochester. Mia Wasikowska, though a fine actor, was not Jane. I love Judi Dench, but she was not Mrs. Fairfax. I wasn't sure what to blame for this disappointing production.  Direction? Script? Both?
The ending was so abrupt in this short film (90 minutes) that half the audience sniggered in disbelief when the house lights came on. I doubt that director Cary Joji Fukunaga was going for this end result. Focus Features' website proudly states: “Jane Eyre, director Cary Joji Fukunaga (Sin Nombre) and screenwriter Moira Buffini (Tamara Drewe) infuse a contemporary immediacy into Charlotte Brontë’s timeless, classic story.” Frankly, I think this team threw the baby out with the bath water.
Are you kidding me? It was only 90 minutes long? I thought it would never end! And when a Jane Eyre audience goes to see Jane Eyre, they are not looking for "contemporary immediacy," thank you veddy much! I don't mean to sound harsh, but I think perhaps that pretty phrase is something they came up with after the fact to explain away the choppiness.
When I returned home after the show I drowned my disappointment in a glass of wine. What comfort food would you suggest for a couple who shelled out $20 to see this film?
Fortunately, my group of six planned ahead. We had afternoon tea at home after the matinee. It was all set before we left for the movie (drove 75 miles round trip to see it!). We just had to put the kettle on, pull the two kinds of sandwiches out of the fridge and warm the scones. Most comforting! We had hoped to simply enjoy discussing the wonderful movie over tea but, as it turned out, we needed the comfort! Here's a link to my recipe for Tea and Scones.
Jean, thank you so much for sharing your thoughts. My companion at the theatre was equally as disappointed, and from the murmurs in the crowd, Jane Eyre did not wow Richmond last night.

Question: What is your favorite Jane Eyre film adaptation? Inquiring minds want to know.

Correction: IMBD says that the film is 120 minutes long. I must have slept through a half hour.- Vic


becca said...

I've wanted to see this film. Now I think I can wait.

Dana Huff said...

Aw, what a shame. The movie poster is so gorgeous! It's only playing in one theater in my area, and it's kind of a trek, so I was waiting. Glad to know that I can wait until Netflix and save the theater money.

Meredith R. said...

I'm still torn. I've read the book and so many reviews are positive. Are there no redeeming qualities?

Jean said...

Yes, I wish I had waited for Netflix. Sure, I only paid matinee price, but it was a long drive! My favorite version is the 2006 Toby Stephens. I hope commenters will tell us theirs!

Vic said...

Dana and Meredith, Most critics and viewers love this film. It is receiving 8 out of 10 stars so far. So, if you have read the book, you can see the film on its own merit. If you have not, it's sink or swim, depending on how much of the story you can figure out from a woefully inadequate script.

Jean and I are of one mind, but it seems that our review has gone against the tide of popular opinion.

Tom said...

I enjoyed your exchange with Jean. I'm not as familiar with the book or other versions as you both are, but as cinema entertainment I did enjoy this film immensely, and gave it an A+ in my review. The flashback sequences really worked for me.

Cinthia said...

This is the first negative review I've read from a Janeite (at Pemberley and C19 there are positive reviews). So please, Becca, Dana, Meredith, Jean and others, I think one should not be discouraged yet.

Though I have not seen it yet, it will take ages to get into my country, but from what I've been able to read, Vic is among a minority. But I must say, so do I, since I among those who do not like the 2006 miniseries.

And yes, be aware that this one does not follow the story in a linear way, it starts almost in the last quarter of the story and then retells the first parts in flashbacks (that is distracting for some people and maybe what contributes to Vic's negative perspective). IMHO that might be a refreshing and interesting approach to film a very familiar story.

Some positive points in favour of this new film that I have been able to read from others is that this film has managed really to capture the gothic feeling from the novel, that the language has not been modernised (unlike many period adaptations nowadays and that includes the 2006 miniseries) and this one depicts the scene from chapter 37 quite well, with all the angst (that is my favourite scene from the book an achievement which IMHO only the 1973 and 1983 have accomplished, the 2006 is ghastly in that account). Add that the music quite fits the film too.

And yes again, I do not believe it lasts 90 minutes, all the reviews report it at 121 minutes.

So, have more hope. Perhaps, Vic should give the film a second chance :).

I'm still looking forward to see this new adaptation (something that I have not been able to say from most adaptations in all this decade).

Cinthia said...

Oops! I forgot to add that the 1973 and 1983 miniseries are my favourite (as I said, I among the few who do not like the 2006 one).

Vic said...

Cinthia, thank you for stopping by and giving us your insights. I liked Orson Welles as Rochester and Joan Fontaine as Jane, and the William Hurt-Charlotte Gainsborough versions as well. (I liked the 2006 adaptation more than you did.)

My expectations of the film were not met, for I bought the hype of this 2011 production and expected huge improvements over previous adaptations. Many of the positive reviews concede that the script leaves much to be desired, and that those who are familiar with the plot of the novel will be less confused than those who have never read the book.

The length of the film is indeed 120 minutes. I found it to be woefully inadequate in this instance, as so many plot threads were left dangling.

As with all movies based on the classics, I will watch this film again.

Jenny Allworthy said...

Hi Vic
I did like this film. I was blinking back tears through much of it. And it was gorgeous and moody looking. The ending was a real disappointment however. Abrupt and too much facial hair!
Interesting that everyone seems to have a favourite adaptation and they are rarely the same ones! I think I can safely say that the 2006 version and this version will end up as most fan's top two however.

Jean | Delightful Repast said...

Cinthia, I really liked the 1973 Jayston and the 1983 Dalton, too! AND the 2006 Stephens! I even liked the 1996 Hurt andd 1943 Wells. The 1934 Clive was interesting--not a favorite, but interesting to the diehard Jane Eyre fan. Couldn't bring myself to even give the 1970 George C Scott a try!

Vic said...

Jenny, I forgot about the facial hair! Yes, instead of swooning over the Jane/Rochester union I found myself wondering if Mia, the actress, was turned off by beard hair smearing her lips.

I like moody and romantic, but I also want clarity and logic. This Eyre version lacked the latter.

Laurel Ann (Austenprose) said...

There are so many Jane Eyre adaptations. The most recent ones have been mini-series. 90 minutes was shocking. I have not been to a 90 minute feature movie ever that I can recall.

It is interesting that the BBC does 90 minute miniseries episodes sometimes. Was this originally for TV and then upgraded to a full feature film? It was co-produced by the BBC who usually do not do anything BUT TV.

I was disappointed too. None of the actors but Judy Dench and Sally Hawkins were of interest. There was no chemistry between Jane and Rochester. I wanted it to be all Gothicy like the said it would be.

In comparison to the other adaptations, it rates in the middle. I still love the 1943 Joan Fontaine and Orson Wells black and white movie. One of my all time favs. This story cries to be in creepy black and white, tons of rain and with sweeping music.

This new version will probably get all sorts of Oscar nods, just like the 2005 P&P. I think it appeals to a younger audience who has not read the book. My 30 year old niece loved it and wants to see it again. Another 30ish friend at work has seen it 4 times on one week. Everyone at work (booksellers) are reading the novel after seeing it.

I will say that it has brought period drama back into the general public's radar - and I am grateful for that.

Otherwise, not such a great script, direction or acting of the major characters.

I agree with you Vic & Jean, where was the tension, drama and romance?

Angela said...

I have not seen this film yet and I'm so sad to hear your reviews were poor! I was looking forward to seeing it. I doubt any version could hold a candle to the 2006 version with Toby. It was the BEST!

Ruth said...

I really enjoyed this new adaptation. Is it my favorite Jane? Not by a long shot - that honor goes to the 2006 miniseries version. However, I thought that for a two hour film, it did a good job remaining true to the spirit of the novel, and I really liked Mia W. and Fassbender as the leads. But oh, what I wouldn't give to see them in a lengthier adaptation! Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

Anonymous said...

The 2006 version!

Jean | Delightful Repast said...

Vic, thanks for going to my Tea and Scones post (link at end of our review above). Every Jane Eyre and Jane Austen fan needs to know how to make scones and a proper cup of tea! (Even if they DON'T agree with my opinion of this new version of Jane Eyre!)

Writrchick said...

My favorite Jane Eyre is the 2007 one, with Toby Stephens and Ruth Wilson. Was hoping that this new version would become another favorite, but I am now in fear of being disappointed. Oh well, I shall have to wait and see. :)

Vic said...

Hi Writrchick, Jean, Laurel Ann, and I are definitely going against popular opinion. Many critics love this film, and viewers do too, thinking it a smart and edgy adaptation.

I wonder what my reaction would have been if I had not had my expectations set so high!

Charleybrown said...

Just saw the film and I didn't mind the so-called choppiness and the plot going forward and backward in time given that they had to sum up various aspects of the plot in the short time alloted for a feature film. I was most disappointed however with Fukunaga failing to show us Jane and Rochester falling in love. Did I miss something? They were having tea one minute, still wary of one another and after she saved him from the fire, their passion was ignited all of a sudden? Sorry but I needed to see the progression of their relationship in between that time (as was done so skillfully in 2006 series). I was impressed with the cinematography and I can't fault Mia or Michael's performances but the film did not capture my heart.

Melanie said...

I agreed with Charleybrown in my own review of the film: NOT ENOUGH FALLING IN LOVE!!
I liked the two leads and their characterizations of the parts, but when it comes to overall realization of the novel, the 2006 tv version with Toby Stephens and Ruth Wilson is the best.

Anne said...

I saw the movie last month when it first came out. It is easily playing in several cities in Chicago. I never read Jane Eyre before and was inspired by the movie to do so. I was never interested in the story as a teenager because I was more into Steinbeck and Dickens. I love the story and I liked the 2011 adaptation. I then went about seeing as many adaptations as I could. I haven't seen the Welles version yet (its on my list), and I only saw bits of the 2006 Toby Stephens version. I also haven't seen the 1996 Hurt version yet - not sure that Hurt is my mind's Rochester.

I have also watched in its entirety the 1983 version with Timothy Dalton and I have to say this is my favorite version. Its very faithful to the book and I thought Clarke and Dalton worked well together. Dalton is very dramatic in it and Clarke did not look 18.

I am not crazy about the 2006 version, although I will try and see the whole thing. I like my period stories to stay in character as much as possible and I felt it didn't.

I would recommend seeing the 2011 Jane Eyre.

Jean | Delightful Repast said...

Anne, I agree with you about the Hurt and the Dalton versions. One of my friends insists the Hurt version is best, and she loves his Rochester; but he is not my idea of Rochester. Without having seen much of him, I seriously underestimated Timothy Dalton! His Rochester was actually one of my very favorites.

Arnie Perlstein said...

Laurel Ann, I think you have been way too hard on this new Jane Eyre.

Seeing it inspired me to revisit, and expand, my previous belief that Jane Eyre is a massive, but covert, allusion to Jane Austen's novels!:

Cheers, ARNIE

Elleoneiram said...

I am way late here, but I agree with Cinthia (even though she hadn't seen the film at the time she wrote the comment, hah). I don't think you're too harsh on it because we all react differently, and it's rare for someone to be "wrong" about a film.

However, I do completely disagree. After so many adaptations of Jane Eyre, the split up structure hardly distracted me and was refreshing, as was the subtly dark mood of the piece. I hadn't read the book for years, and I understood the plot perfectly well. But I am not one to say this film would be good for those who have the book very fresh in their minds. For me, the lighting and colors evoked the mood of the characters, muted on the surface but painfully gorgeous within.

Mag said...

What I thought of the movie?
I think it is absolutely brilliant. I saw it on the opening day - last Friday (here in Hong Kong).
I go to the cinema almost every Thursdays. meaning I have seen A LOT of movies, good and bad, and so so ones.
I think Jane Eyre 2011 is extremely well-done and very very impactful. I kept watching this trailer again and again for the last few days.
I haven't read the book (if I did,it was a simplified version in my teenager years which I wasn't too impressed with.)
I can assure you that movie-goers who haven't read the book will still follow what's happening and love the movie. 'cos it really captures all the elements there is to capture. and you know what I am going to read the book now.

I like "Wuthering Heights" the best, it was in our English Literature syllabus for A Level Exam. (2 year matriculation before University - we follow British system then in Hong Kong)

and 'Pride and Prejudice" is my all-time favorite. I must have read it 100 times when I was a teenager.