Let me get right to the point: This is ultimately a disappointing film because of the casting of Michael Fassbender as Mr. Rochester. There. I said it and I'm glad.
In this latest production of JANE EYRE based on the immortal book by Charlotte Bronte, Mr. Fassbender exudes zero sex appeal and zero allure. His make-up and general grooming is not well done (his hair looks HORRIBLE) and he never has the necessary presence that shows me, the viewer, the reason why Jane should have fallen in love with him practically at first sight.
Fassbender is not physically imposing in the slightest. There is also nothing of the tortured soul about him. Many of his lines are spoken as if they do not come from him (as they must), but from the dictates of the script.
There is only one scene in which he shows a bit of allure and since that runs only about three minutes, it isn't much to base a whole film on.
Let's face it, JANE EYRE on screen is a gothic romance (the book as well, I suppose) but the movie rests completely on the back of good casting. A good Rochester and a good Jane Eyre is imperative. Mia Wasikowska is fine as Jane, but there is NO chemistry to speak of with Fassbender. None. Zip. Zero.
The moody cinematography by Adriano Goldman is excellent as is the direction by Cary Fukunaga despite some scene set-ups which appeared a little awkward. The entire production has a dark and forbidding look and the Thornfield set is good.
The sound, not so much. In certain scenes it was impossible to understand what some characters were saying.
Judy Dench plays Mrs. Fairfax and has literally nothing to do, can't imagine why she was cast. It's practically a non-role. Not that Fairfax is a huge role in any production, but why waste Judy Dench?
One final note: The young women in this movie, Jane included, are SO alarmingly thin that I wondered if the film had been altered in some way. The waists of several of the actresses could not have been more than 20 inches, if that. I mean, minuscule. (And yes, I accounted for corset underpinnings.) Some of the camera shots pointed out this thinness and not, necessarily, in a good way. I wonder if these women eat anything at all. Scary.
So let's go from the worse to the best in one single leap:
My favorite JANE EYRE production will probably always be the 1983 BBC mini-series starring Timothy Dalton. He was perfection as Rochester.
Zelah Clark as Jane (she was, perhaps, a little too old) was not as perfect, but she carried it off because of the intelligence shining in her eyes. She is a wonderful actress.
Zelah Clarke and Timothy Dalton
Another picture of Timothy Dalton....just because.
There have been many MANY versions of JANE EYRE over the years - some worked a bit better than others, some didn't work at all - George C. Scott as Rochester in the 1971 film, for instance. I'm not sure if I'm remembering it worse or better than it was. Unfortunately the George C. Scott interpretation can't be found on Netflix. I would like to see it once again at some point.
Susanna York and George C. Scott
In 2006, there was another version of JANE EYRE, this time starring Toby Stephens as Rochester and Ruth Wilson as Jane. That casting was not very successful either.
But Stephens was, at least, better suited for the part of Rochester than Fassbender. Though Wilson was, perhaps, a bit too cute for Jane. Still, at least the two actors generated some chemistry.
Liked the costume designs by John Bright and Andrea Galer very much.
In 1997, Ciarin Hinds as Rochester and Samantha Morton as Jane made for another disastrous pairing. I found this version almost unwatchable. Just like I'll never see the 2011 film again, I'll never watch this one again either. It was just plain awful. And I like Ciarin Hinds. He was wonderful as Captain Wentworth in the film of Jane Austen's PERSUASION.
In 1996, Charlotte Gainsbourg and William Hurt played Jane and Rochester. Not very successfully, I'm afraid. Again, zero chemistry between the lead actors, though Gainsbourg makes for an interesting looking Jane. William Hurt appeared a bit disengaged. It was difficult for me to accept Hurt as Rochester. Possibly becaue of his 'American-ness.' He never rang true for me as an Englishman of the 19th century.
I suppose my favorite cast of JANE EYRE (next to Timothy Dalton and Zelah Clark) would have to be in the black and white 1943 film starring Orson Welles as Rochester and Joan Fontaine as Jane. The cast also included Margaret O'Brien as Rochester's little French ward, Peggy Ann Gardner as young Jane and Elizabeth Taylor as her doomed childhood friend at the infamous Lowood School.
Elizabeth Taylor and Peggy Ann Gardner.
Orson Welles and Joan Fontaine.
They used some sort of tiny pin-point light apparatus to light Orson Welles' eyes. I've always loved that about these scenes. It gave him a lit from within intensity.
Another picture of Welles.....just because.
Joan Fontaine and Orson Welles at Thornfield.
The Thornfield set for this production was a bit too stark for my tastes. Though the outside was handled well enough considering most of it was shot on a sound stage. Lighting striking a tree branch as Rochester proposes marriage, is still a terrific effect.
The last scene where Jane finds the halfway blinded Rochester all bedraggled and bereft works especially well in this film. There is real passion between the two actors in their final clinch.
So what do you think? Do you have a favorite JANE EYRE version? Spill it.
(And please remember that all this is purely my own biased opinion.)
JANE EYRE was the beginning of my affection for all those darkly handsome and brooding heroes I was to read about later. Also, I might add, for the idea of an independent minded woman with a spirit as indomitable as a man's.