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Speaking of well-beloved books, this evening I went with my dear [profile] darkspree to see the new Jane Eyre. I was pleasantly surprised. The director Cary Fukunaga's decision to play up the gothic elements of the story paid dividends, I thought (even if one of the early shots of the sun setting over the moors did end up looking more like Mordor than Yorkshire). I was initially unconvinced by the flashback style of the narrative, though I think it did help move things at a brisk pace.

Young!Jane was, I thought, pretty good, and while the scenes at the Reeds and Lowood were pretty short (as they always are in a two hour feature), they captured the spirit of Jane's difficult and lonely childhood. Everyone in the cinema winced when John hit Jane with the book. Helen and Jane were very sweet together. Did anyone else get a decidedly adolescent-sapphic vibe from them?! Yeaaah.

Then we moved on to Thornfield. If you hadn't read the book I think it might have been slightly confusing as to how she got there. Judi Dench was Mrs Fairfax - has she ever played a nice old lady rather than a fierce one? Anyway, she did a good job of it.

When I heard about the casting of Mia Wasikowska as Jane, I wasn't convinced, having seen her in Tim Burton's rather awful Alice in Wonderland. But actually she was really quite good. I have to accept that there will never be an actress who quite captures Jane, physically or emotionally, but she did a pretty good job. Her Jane was somewhat lacking in the puritan streak she has in the book - her Jane embraced finery, for instance - but she certainly had Jane's steel, and she met Mr Rochester's gaze as an equal.

The main criticism I seemed to hear about Michael Fassbender is that he's too young to be Rochester. Actually, he is only a small handful of years younger than Rochester is meant to be, and he's still a good 13 years older than Wasikowska, which demonstrates the age gap easily enough. He's far too handsome to be Rochester, but I've never felt that Rochester being plain was as important as it is for Jane, and at least Fassbender has slightly unconventional looks. And that rather unhinged smile, of course. Fassbender really brought out the bastardly elements of Rochester's character - his tendency to be dismissive, the cruel edge to his humour. I wish we could have had the fortune telling scene because I think he'd have hammed it up masterfully! I think they slightly overegged the quixotic pudding by having him be quite so frenetic, but he gets across Rochester's restlessness beautifully.

The chemistry between Jane and Rochester worked pretty well, I thought. There were some clumsy moments; I think the scene after the fire was a bit awkward, but I think it'd be hard to translate that strange sexual tension onto the screen, and I was disappointed that the proposal scene didn't happen in the evening, as it did in the book, because I think nighttime gives that scene a lot more intimacy. I also wished they didn't kiss as much, but that's because I'm a bit of a purist. One really intense kiss after the proposal would for me have worked a lot better than a lot of face sucking, much as I like smooching. But that's a minor quibble. I think the chemistry between the pair came into its own after the abortive wedding. The moment he had his hands on her throat was pretty powerful.

And then Jane fled off to St John Rivers and his sisters. I have never been satisfied with the portrayal of St John in any adaptation, and this was no exception, though Jamie Bell did do a better job of it than some. The thing about St John is that he is in many ways like Mr Rochester - charismatic, intelligent, persuasive, ruthless. But where Rochester is all fire, St John is ice. Jane is meant to be drawn to him, but to know that the loveless marriage of duty he proposes would kill her. In this version we got an ambitious cleric looking for a marriage of convenience, which at least was better than most other versions' portrayals of St John as a nice chap. St John is not nice, and one day I hope to see a version that gets across how tightly he reins in his own passions. I also thought it was a shame that they dropped Jane discovering that the Rivers were her cousins, because it made it seem like she was buying herself a family. Dodgy.

The reunion was something of a disappointment. Instead of letting Rochester be maimed in the great fire, he...grew a huge beard? Come on, guys, he might have gone blind but he had servants to shave him. It made his reunion with Jane faintly observed, because when she kissed him she disappeared into his facial hair. I'm not joking. I had to repress my laughter until the credits, at which point Hannah and I laughed fairly hysterically. It did feel good to laugh like that, so I guess I should be grateful to Mr Fassbender's ridiculous beard. But it was not exactly the stuff romantic reunions are meant to be made of.

I've quibbled quite a bit here, but I did enjoy it quite a lot! Most of the actors captured their characters well; the film looked gorgeous, all gothic and gloomy; and I believed in Jane and Edward's love, which is the main thing, really. So it's worth a view!
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January 2013

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