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"Jane Eyre 2011" is worth seeing on DVD

August 18, 2011 - Andrea Johnson
Over the years I have collected many of the movie adaptations of "Jane Eyre" on DVD. For some reason there have been a lot of adaptations of the Charlotte Bronte classic, far more than there have been of the Jane Austen novels that have been so popular in the last decade or so.

The most recent "Jane Eyre," starring Mia Wasikowska as the plucky, orphaned governess Jane and Michael Fassbender as Mr. Rochester, the employer she falls in love with, came out on Tuesday on DVD. This is the first time I've seen it since it never played in a Minot theater. Apparently no one is supposed to enjoy culture in Minot.

"Jane Eyre" is such a gothic, atmospheric novel that it's very easy for a film director to overdose on all that sturm und drang, but "Jane Eyre (2011)" doesn't do that. The film is so matter-of-fact that it feels almost Scandinavian, especially when it starts out with a scene from midway through the novel, with a tearful Jane running on the windswept moor until she passes out. There is no dialogue, but the audience hears her every painful breath. This is a film that strips the romance from the characters and makes them feel real.

Mia Wasikowska, who is just 20, is one of the youngest actresses to ever play Jane, who is just 18 in the book to Rochester's mid-thirties. Some of the previous actresses who have played Jane have been as old as 30. I think it adds something to this particular film to have an age-appropriate actress playing the lead character, especially one who plays Jane as self-possessed, strong-minded and introverted as she is in the book. Wasikowska's Jane is always herself, no matter what situation she is in. Her integrity does not permit her to bend, even when doing so would have made her life more pleasant, such as when Rochester asks her to be his mistress and ignore the existence of his mad wife in the attic.

Fassbender is less spot on than other actors I've seen in the role, but he still did a good job of showing how fascinated the jaded Rochester is by this self-possessed governess, who seems to offer him renewal and redemption and a second chance at happiness. The real fun in watching a movie with so many versions is seeing the different interpretations of the characters and both Wasikowska and Fassbender succeeded in putting their own stamp on their characters while still remaining true to the novel.

While I think the 1986 BBC version of "Jane Eyre" starring Timothy Dalton as Rochester might remain my favorite production, this 2011 version is one of the better adaptations I have seen and will stay in my DVD library.


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