Mia Wasikowska updates classic heroine Jane Eyre with passion and aplomb in Cary Fukunaga’s remake of the Charlotte Bronte novel.
This is Wasikowska’s breakout role. Her talent and screen presence have attracted notice lately in The Kids Are All Right, In Treatment and Alice in Wonderland.
The Australian-born actor lends intelligent yearning to “poor, obscure” Jane. Gazing out a window at horizons she may never cross, she conveys inner strength and a vast spirit despite her humble circumstances as a governess.
Delightfully sassy with impertinent wit, Jane speaks out to her cruel aunt Mrs. Reed (Sally Hawkins) and to heartless headmaster Mr. Brocklehurst (Simon McBurney). Amelia Clarkson plays young Jane.
Setting her own course
Wasikowska does Bronte proud, revealing an advocate for women’s rights before such ideas had a name. This Jane stands in time alongside the heroine rendered by Samantha Morton (1997), Charlotte Gainsbourg (1996) and Joan Fontaine (1944).
Michael Fassbender embodies pain and sarcasm as Edward Rochester. What comes through is the character’s loneliness. One senses the isolation of Jane, Mr. Rochester and Mrs. Fairfax (Judi Dench), each turning to the other to meet their needs in some way.
Rochester’s stealthy handling of the madwoman in the attic bristles even while Fassbender reveals a sympathetic, conflicted man.
Jamie Bell plays pious and ultimately domineering St. John Rivers. Holliday Grainger and Tamzin Merchant shine as the supportive, nurturing Rivers sisters.
Jane Eyre fans will enjoy this film while remembering the over-the-top frenzy of Rochesters past (Orson Welles in 1944; Ciaran Hinds in 1997). They might miss more screen time for the violent madwoman (played briefly by Valentina Cervia), and a more dramatized fire scene in the master’s bedroom.
Chronology is confused with early cross-cutting. In the stirring opening, Jane flees Thornfield and is rescued by St. John Rivers. Next we see a brief review of her orphan days at the family’s Gateshead estate, and later at the Lowood Institution.
Fukunaga (Sin Nombre) finally settles the tale into its natural dramatic arc with Jane’s arrival at Thornfield and her tutelage of Mr. Rochester’s charge Adele (Romy Settbon Moore).
Beautifully written, acted
Spare, powerful writing by Moira Buffini and impassioned delivery give Jane Eyre its ringing, memorable lines. “Children, I exhort you to with hold the hand of friendship to Jane Eyre.” “Mr. Rochester’s visits are always unexpected.” “You transfix me, quite.”
Cinematographer Adriano Goldman captures action in beautiful shades of pewter, contrasted with bright outdoor vistas.
Dench’s Mrs. Fairfax perfect
Judi Dench is masterful as Mrs. Fairfax, opinionated, warm and manipulative. As head housekeeper, she rivals her master (and distant relative) Mr. Rochester even while pooh-poohing her status.
We see less merrymaking by elite Blanche Ingram (Imogen Poots) and her entourage. Poots adds interest with a Blanche who is more threatened by Jane from the start.
The heroine receives an inheritance, adding more power late in the drama. A return to Edward would not be Jane’s only option.
The final reunion scene lacks the outward fire of previous Jane Eyre films, yet it leaves much to the imagination in quiet beauty. (5 out of 5 stars)
If you like Jane Eyre, you might enjoy: The Young Victoria; Restless.
Jane Eyre 2011 / PG-13 / 2 hours, 1 min
Cast Overview: Mia Wasikowska, Michael Fassbender, Jamie Bell, Amelia Clarkson, Sally Hawkins, Freya Parks, Holliday Grainger, Tamzin Merchant, Imogen Poots, Valentina Cervi, Judi Dench
Director: Cary Fukunaga
Genre: Drama, Romance, Period Piece, Drama Based on the Book