Our rating: 4 out of 5
reviewed by Charity Bishop
Charlotte Bronte's classic piece of literature has been adapted many times over, along with the work of her sister Emily. This is the single adaptation to come out of Hollywood in fifty years and it is a stellar piece of work, while not completely passionate in the telling. Overall it moves more slowly than A&E's version but may appeal more due to its less controversial Mr. Rodchester.
Orphaned and abused by her intolerant relations, Jane Eyre (Anna Paquin) is not sorry to leave the home of her cross aunt and wicked cousins for the religious school of Lowood. But she finds life there even more unpleasant than at home, for the teachers are cruel, the girls mistreated, and the owner overly cross and demanding. Her only friends are the cheerful Miss Temple (Amanda Root), and fellow classmate Helen Burns. With winter comes the sickness, and Helen is stricken by it. Jane is devastated when her only confidante is laid to rest but remains at Lowood for eight more years... six as a student, and two as a teacher. At last desiring to be free of the restraints of this provincial life, she seeks employment as a governess and is asked to the country estate of Thornfield to tutor a little girl by the name of Adele (Josphine Serre). Upon journeying to the strange old castle in the hills, Jane discovers that the child is not Mrs. Fairfax's (Joan Plowright), nor particularly that of the owner, Mr. Rochester (William Hurt), who is a strange man. He rarely appears at his estate, spending much of his time in France and other places of interest and when he does arrive, the housekeeper is never warned. While walking one day, Jane witnesses an accident that occurs due to ice. She hurries to help and the man questions her with slight interest and perhaps some apprehension.
At first he refuses her help but after the discovery that he has twisted his ankle and is unable to walk, he allows her to lead him to his horse and then rides off abruptly, telling her she should hurry back to the house. When she does return, she's shocked to discover that the man she helped on the road was none other than Adele's guardian and the owner of the estate, Mr. Rochester. He swears that she had cast a spell upon his horse and caused it to fall, to which Jane objects. With the return of Mr. Rochester, strange things begin to happen in the house. Jane more than once hears a spine-chilling laugh, catches sight of a mysterious figure and hears someone prowling the manor at night. Grace, the servant whom Mrs. Fairfax blames for the laughter, tells Jane in a serious tone 'If I were you, Miss, I'd get into the habit of bolting my door at night.' It is merely the first hint of the sinister circle of events that threaten to stifle Thornfield and entrap its occupants in a horror all its own.
Jane Eyre is a classic handed down from generation to generation as good reading. The story has a shadow over it of depression and I was a bit disappointed at the ending, but still it's a well-made film and worth watching. The cast is superb and I love the sense of suspense, mystery and romance that is carefully threaded through the story. It's rated PG for mild thematic elements and violence but there's nothing objectionable. One muffled abuse of GD and two minor profanities are the extent of the language. There are several mildly violent and/or frightening scenes that kids might find stressful; several people fall to their deaths, and one is engulfed in flames. Mild blood (from a knife wound) is shown for a few seconds. I'm also not too fond of William Hurt's portrayal of Edward; he seems far too laid back to carry off the impassioned, half-mad man who captivated Jane's heart. But overall the film is very worthwhile.