All of the classic novels have a movie version that people garner toward. The Colin Firth version satisfies the “Pride and Prejudice” Austen-ians; the “Hamlet” fans typically split on the Olivier or the Branagh films. With “Jane Eyre,” there never has been any enthusiasm over any of the versions, and this new adaptation probably won’t be the one to claim the most fans.
Some aspects are dead-on. Mia Wasikowska (“In Treatment,” “The Kids Are All Right”) is a dead ringer for the troubled Miss Eyre. Michael Fassbender brings his natural intensity to the rough Mr. Rochester. The rest of the cast includes great stars like Judi Dench, Jamie Bell and Sally Hawkins.
The film looks great. Director Cary Fukunaga made his mark on the film world with the very good “Sin Nombre” and he continues to skillfully and intriguingly place his characters in landscapes where they aren’t comfortable. Thornfield looks fantastic, especially when Fukunaga moves the camera as if it is always peering around the corner.
There is just something emotionally missing from this film. The early trials of Jane’s childhood work really well, and its conclusion feels satisfying. The adaptation of the middle remains troubling. After such a scarring and loveless childhood, Jane becomes very closed-off. She keeps to herself, but there is something about her that has characters remark on her soul. Wasikowska knows how to play on the subtlety of the character, but the film doesn’t challenge the audience enough to attempt to figure out Miss Eyre’s mind. This works during the grand conversations between Jane and Rochester because her word choices give clues about what is underneath the surface. Between that dialogue is something missing that could be accomplished with narration.
That restraint, be it accidental in some parts, is effective with the central romance. Having dramatic crane shots or deafening music would cheapen the relationship between the two characters. Their love is not a universal story. The reason this novel is so read (and adapted) is because these two characters are so well understood. They are apathetic and cruel at times, but also longing and affectionate. Nobody wants to be Jane Eyre or Rochester, but we want to know more about them and we want them to succeed. This film pulls that off … to a point.