Our rating: 4 out of 5
reviewed by Charity Bishop
Since the original publication of Jane Eyre the story has become a classic and many modern film adaptations have come out of it, not the least of which being this most recent production by A&E. While perhaps taking a few liberties for the sake of being different than other versions, the story is still very much to the original transcript.
The film opens in a horrifying climatic entry of a young Jane Eyre being thrown into a darkened room as a punishment. The room, which she believes to be haunted, terrifies her, and her fear is not lessoned by the impact that the following day has upon her. A cruel and vengeful old man of the cloth, Mr. Brocklehurst, has been asked by her aunt to take Jane away to school. Once there she finds little regard from other children, all save her friend Helen, who dies from typhoid a year later. Time passes and Jane (Samantha Morton) sets out upon her own, having spent eight years at the school... six as a pupil, and two as a teacher. Placing an advertisement in the newspaper, she is offered the position as a governess to young Adele at a lonely manor called Thornfield. Adele's guardian, Mr. Rochester (Ciarán Hinds), stays largely abroad and his unexpected return is made all the more traumatic for Jane when she startles his horse and causes him to fall and twist his ankle. She does not like this darkly handsome and yet somehow sinister man with his modern ideas and often earth-shattering temper, but in time grows to respect him.
However, all is not safe at Thornfield for a servant named Grace Poole haunts the upper corridors and is known to be violent and dangerous. Mrs. Fairfax (Gemma Jones), the housekeeper, will tell Jane little more than that, but the mysterious laughter that she hears echoing down the passage, the footsteps that fade into nothing, even the trying of her door are enough to severely rattle her. And when she awakens one night to the smell of smoke and finds Mr. Rochester's room in flames, it becomes her mission to rid Thornfield of the insane servant, if only for Adele's protection. What lies ahead is a tumulus twisting and turning of events carried out magnificently by the main players. This adaptation is considerably more tolerable than all the rest. Thornfield is not quite so dark and sinister but is just as creepy, if not more so.
Samantha Morton's portrayal of Jane, along with the voice-over, make the heroine much more personable and likable. You truly hear her thoughts and learn to love her rather than feel as if you are watching at a distance. Many of the other productions I have seen have lingered too long on death and the darker aspects, while this adaptation is flooded with meaningful, rich dialogue and a splendid and often breathtaking backdrop. While a much more cheering and often surprising adaptation, A&E's production is not without its flaws. It chooses to tell rather than show violence, something families will be grateful for. But the suspense and overall themes the film carries make it wary viewing for very young children. (Who no doubt will grow tired of it anyway.) We learn Rochester was not married to Adele's mother (and indeed, the child is not even his). Likewise, he later tries to persuade Jane to become his mistress when their plans for marriage grind to a temporary halt. Thankfully Jane is strong in her resolve and refuses him. She leaves the house that night and only returns some time later, unable to bear their separation a moment longer. (But even then immorality is denied.)
A few instances of cleavage are present, and a mad woman acts mildly sensual toward her husband. There are moments of ghostly faces and eerie laughter in the film's climax in the haunted room; whether or not it is Jane's imagination or truth, the audience is left to decide. When all is said and done, this is a very, very good adaptation, clearly defining the lines between Jane's honor and her heart. She is given a much more spiritual and Christian side, often speaking of the Bible and God, trying to share her beliefs with Rochester. The moments of tension are played out well, from the stabbing in the upper chambers to a midnight intruder. Blanche Ingram, Rochester's love interest, is beautiful and two-faced without being smutty, and her reaction to a change of event leave the viewer feeling satisfied. Jane is properly shocked and offended by Rochester's obvious worldliness and yet learns to love him despite his flaws. Hinds is ghastly as Edward, but it's not a terrible adaptation.