Sunday, September 18, 2011

What I Watched Last Night: JANE EYRE (2011) starring Michael Fassbender and Mia Wasikowska

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:

Timothy Dalton as Rochester.

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.

Toby Stephens and Ruth Wilson

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.


  1. I found you via All Things Ruffnerian. Sorry the film was not for you. I really enjoyed it, mainly I suspect because I was very familiar with all of the locations used. One of which, Broughton Castle, was Lowood School. I visited it last Thursday and have featured it on my blog.

  2. Rosemary: I'm glad you found my blog. I love Mark's website and am always checking in there to see what he's up to.

    I'm definitely going to check out your blog, especially the post on Broughton.

    I loved the settings in the current film, very atmospheric. But it's Fassbender I wasn't happy with. :)

  3. I had such hopes for this film as I've been disappointed in every version. It's my favorite book, and I've read it at least a dozen times, so yes, I have high expectations.

    But oh. my. gosh. Is it that difficult? Really? Jane has so much more spunk, and Rochester much more fire than I've ever seen on screen.

    Give me something to work with people!

  4. Picky: When it comes to fire, I always thought Orson Welles had it more than any of the other Rochesters. Have you seen that version?

    But I get what you mean.

    I still say: it's the casting, stupid. :)

  5. I also had mixed feelings after watching this version of Jane Eyre last Tuesday evening. The trailer and DVD container praise Cary Fukunaga’s “bold new vision,” which I was concerned meant physical intimacy between Jane and Rochester (the 2006 PBS version tried to imply as much).

    This might sound like so much nitpicking, but I rate the film interpretations based on a single line from the book, “Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain and little, I am soulless and heartless?” Many film versions feel the need to “rephrase” Jane’s sentiments; this version got the line correct but so much else wrong.

    I have watched the film adaptations of Jane’s story that you mention, with the exception George C. Scott as Rochester and including Jane Eyre (1996) with William Hurt and Charlotte Gainsbourg, but none have matched the passion and power of the novel.

    I feel similar about the film adaptations of Wuthering Heights; my favorite is the 1939 version, I liked Timothy Dalton as Heathcliff, but no actress has truly embodied the fascinating and mercurial character that is Cathy.

  6. whistlingypsy: I think the 'bold new vision' simply meant that the story in this case is shown in flashback. Though, that's the way the book is written so not so sure how bold this outlook is.

    I love that line you quoted, too.

    WUTHERING HEIGHTS is not one of my favorite stories. I've always felt that Cathy and Heathcliff deserved what happened to them - Cathy especially. Talk about a dysfunctional couple.

    Not that Jane and Rochester were the height of 'normality' either...

    I wonder sometimes what was going on in that grim Bronte parsonage.

  7. Jane Eyre is one of my favorite novels, Yvette, which means that no film adaptation will ever live up to the images I had in my head while reading it. I am always bound to be disappointed in some ways.

    I do love Orson Well's eyes, so he might have won me over as Rochester if I saw this version of the film. :)

  8. Hi, Yvette -

    I hadn't realized there were so many recent versions of Jayne Eyre!

    I saw the latest version on the big screen, and have to agree with you on every count. Whole scenes were mumbled by two characters to which I wasn't in any way drawn or emotionally invested.

    I do love these period pieces for the rich scenery and interiors, and I'm never disappointed in that.


    P. S. Thanks so much for your nice comments about my blog - it's always heartening to know someone is out there looking!

  9. Mm, I don't think we'll be rushing to find a babysitter so we can go and see this one. As to other versions: I remember enjoying the DAlton one when it was on the TV but years later when, as a teacher, I showed bits of it to classes of kids I thought it was a mixture of stilted and over-acted, badly lit, slow, and in short, clatteringly awful. I haven't dared look at it again. Dalton was the the best bit though I think.

  10. Pat: Oh Pat, the Orson Welles version is easily available on Netflix Instant Streaming. It's wonderful.

    You must see it, especially if you're a Welles fan.

  11. Mark: The scenery and costumes rarely disappointing. But JANE EYRE is such an emotional story that if our own emotions aren't engaged, the story loses us.

    You're welcome by the way. I love your blog and like to make sure everyone else does too. :)

  12. Juxtabook: Though it's always good to see the films - to compare if nothing else - I'd say, wait for the next one. There's sure to be a next one.

    Timothy Dalton is always the 'best bit'. :)

    I really do recommend seeing the Orson Welles version if you haven't.

  13. I didn't mind it as much as the rest of you. The story is strong enough to carry any competent actors and I almost liked the more austere props and performances. In many ways it is about poverty, diminished expectations, loneliness and not a love story and this version tapped into it.

  14. Patti: To each his or her own, of course. :)

    I did love the setting and the scenery.

    I see your point about diminished expecations, but I thing, in a way, Jane expected very much from herself. She was self-contained but only to a point.

    I've always felt she inspite of life's early harsh treatment of her, she never lost her ideals.

  15. Hi Yvette

    We are on the opposite ends of the spectrum on this one.

    I found Fassbender alright in this film. Yes he is not the Byronic hero that is imagined in the source material, but I may be biased because I generally like his body of work.

    What I especially liked about this film were the tonal elements - the interior and exterior atmosphere was very tense indeed. Overall I rated it rather highly.

    I quite liked the BBC Adaptation and the Welles/Fontaine one too. It is a tricky balance getting the Jane/Rochester right. What I find ends up happening is my ideal pairing is a combination of one from one movie with the other from another film.

    And if I can be completely honest, I am not sure that any portrayal of Rochester can match what Charlotte Bronte was able to achieve in text.

    This may also go back to the point that I have always made about film adaptations of novels - especially well cherished ones. What makes these books timeless is the readers' imagination. In that case you cannot possibly replicate what the mind is bound to conjure up.

  16. iluvcinema: As I said to Patti, to each his or her own. :)

    We must agree to disagree. Fassbender is so far from my imagge of Rochester - could never reconcile that though I did like the atmosphere in the film and the scenery and sets.

    Of course you're perfectly right when you say that we each have a personal vision of what the characters must look like from reading the book.

    Who can measure up to our own imaginations?

  17. Yvette - to answer your question, no one can :)

    I have often gone back and forth on my blog about this whole book versus the movie "issue." I say "issue" just because they are two different art forms and evoke different responses.

    My favorite part of the whole movie experience was that people gasped at things that I just assumed people would have known about.

  18. iluvcinema:

    What sorts of things?

    About books vs. movies - there is NO vs. involved, really.

    They are two separate and complete art forms, as you say.

    Can't really say one is 'better' than the other. They are both so different.

  19. I have yet to read the book or see any movie adaptation of it. It's one of those things I keep putting off, one day I'll bit the bullet though.

  20. Ryan: There's no biting of the bullet about it. JANE EYRE is a wonderful book. :)

  21. Picked up a copy of the 1971 Scott/York version at the local Walmart - it was in a 99-cent "blister-pack", so if you were interested in protecting it for multiple viewings, you're on your own for that. There are NO special features, language options, scene selection options just "PLAY" or push your player's eject button. The quality of the recording is just what you'd expect if someone had taped it from their TV back in the 70s, but it's the story that's important, I guess. Acting by both Scott and York was good, but nothing powerfully exceptional, in my opinion -- still, it's worth watching.

  22. Thanks for letting me know, Jim. I'll have to keep a look-out for it.

  23. Of all the adaptations of Jane Eyre I've seen, this is by far (in my opinion) the most true to the book in the tone and the spirit of the story.


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