Movie review – Woman of substance and a breath of fresh air

2011-05-06 12:47

Film: Jane Eyre (Ster Kinekor)

Director: Cary Fukunaga

Featuring: Mia Wasikowska, Michael Fassbender, Jamie Bell and Judi Dench

Rating: 9/10

Before I sat down to watch Cary Fukunaga’s rendition of Charlotte Bronte’s 1847 classic Jane Eyre , I thought ‘surely we don’t need yet another version of this book on film’.

I was wrong.

Hollywood and the BBC have been taking turns to make cinematic versions of it since 1910 – some are brilliant, some are laughably off the mark.

Some, like the 2006 mini-series, are classics, while others, like the 1934 version which starred Virginia Bruce, are best forgotten.

Fukunaga’s version is spot-on in every way. What makes Bronte’s novel so everlasting is that in its time it was a seminal work and the allure that made it a talking point in drawing rooms of the mid-19th century retains its relevance 164 years on.

Featuring a morally upstanding young woman who knows not only her own mind, but also what she deserves as a human being, Jane Eyre was a century or more ahead of her time.

To some extent biographical, Jane Eyre is also a classic example of a gothic novel, but one which incorporates elements of a coming-of-age story and which also interrogates social injustice.

Fukunaga has chosen an interesting cast – Mia Wasikowska, who starred as the daughter in The Kids Are Alright and as Tim Burton’s Alice, is transformed into the original plain Jane.

She is a revelation as the eponymous character – managing to convey all of Jane’s incredible strength, passion and pain in a look, making this much-played character her own.

Perhaps what makes Jane so powerful is that she refuses to ever be a victim, despite the abuse she suffers from childhood onwards.

Taking on the role of the dark and brooding Mr Rochester is Michael Fassbender, who slips into this difficult period role with ease.

He is more famous for swordplay in the likes of 300, Centurion and Inglourious Basterds, but he is more than up to the task of taking on one of English literature’s most complex characters and, in so doing, the audience forget?the?actors who did it first.

The legendary Judi Dench gives Mrs Fairfax a different spin in this version and Sally Hawkins, most famous for her role in Happy Go Lucky, is the mean-spirited Mrs Reed.

Jamie Bell, who leapt into our collective consciousness in Billy Elliot, proves that in just over a decade, he’s become an actor of great versatility with his performance as St John Rivers.

Apart from the superb performances, this Jane Eyre pays minute detail to every aspect of the time and place.

From the horror of the Red Room in her aunt’s house to the Christian cruelty of Lowood, to the forbidding walls of Thornfield Hall and the bleak beauty of the moors the heartbroken Jane walks across, this film captures the essence of Bronte’s book.

Quite a feat for a director who is not yet 35 and who hasn’t made a feature length film before, though he has won an arm’s length of awards for his short films.

Whoever you are, whatever your filmic preferences, Jane Eyre is a faultless ode to a timeless story of love, madness and everything in between.

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