Charlotte Brontë’s classic, gothic Jane Eyre is out on the big screen today, and that means that Michael Fassbender is out on it, too, and I love it.
Directed by Sin Nombre’s Cary Fukunaga, this latest take is fairly faithful to the original text, a beloved and influential Victorian staple about the titular young woman so incredibly mistreated by everyone and by life itself she goes about it with the most opposite of attitudes: a so-whatness so absolute and startling and unexpected it is the only way both she and us would have it.
Raised by her snotty aunt Sarah (Sally Hawkins) after her parents die of typhus, a young Jane proves to be too wicked and burdensome to her and is thus shipped off to a stark boarding school as the result of her perceived insolence.
There, she suffers greatly at the hands of the cold, unusually strict administration. Nevertheless, her indomitable spirit will not be broken, and although shunned by most everyone but one friend, she grows up into a fine young woman capable of great compassion and strength.
She’s som’in’ else that Jane Eyre.
Upon turning 18 and after completing her education, Jane (up-and-comer Mia Wasikowska, the heroine of last year’s Alice in Wonderland and one of the kids of The Kids Are All Right) finds work as a governess for the French ward of (the gorge) Edward Fairfax Rochester (Fassbender), master of Thornfield Hall.
Her new role affords Jane everything she has ever wanted and longed for: a home, but also a place where she’s not demeaned, honest work, and a sense of belonging and family (among the people she befriends there is Mrs. Fairfax, the head housekeeper played by Judi Dench).
She is as much of a hit as anyone in her position can be, and she even ingratiates herself to brooding Mr. Rochester, who takes a liking to her for in no small measure because of her outspoken and direct ways.
Eventually, Brontë fans will know (and after a few simmering will-they-or-won’t-they? moments, chief among them the one during which Jane stands up for herself and tells Mr. Rochester that just because she is poor, obscure, plain, and little she is not soulless and heartless and he shouldn’t play with her), the two become engaged to be married.
On what was supposed to be the happiest day of her life, however, a secret is revealed, and the emotionally shattered governess takes flight, subsequently meeting the kindly clergyman St. John Rivers (Jamie Bell) and his two sisters, with whom Jane begins a new life as a teacher under an assumed name.
Her passion for Rochester, though, burns bright in distance and time, prompting Jane to change her life again after learning a crucial secret about her own long-lost family.
There isn’t a whole lot I can say when it comes to the story, y’ know, since the powers that be haven’t taken any flagrant liberties in bringing it to the big screen.
Yeah, Fassbender’s Rochester isn’t as stern or rough or even as mean as he is in the book, but that’s not a bother to me – and purists shall be appeased by the fact that actor looks super-good in Victorian garb and has quite the commanding presence. And as Jane, Wasikowska (in what I am calling her early-Gwyneth turn) is a quiet dynamo.
Jane Eyre may not be as polished as, say, Joe Wright’s 2005’s Pride & Prejudice, but it has its moments (every scene between Jane and Mr. Rochester was, to me, tremendous edge-of-your-friggin’-seat stuff) and two stars who make the most of ’em. I would so visit it again with it. And I trust you will definitely check it out.
My Rating ***
Photo: Focus Features.