Jane Eyre has been made into a movie twelve times, not including early silent versions, Jane Eyre, the Musical,(!) and two foreign adaptations. I watched only those that are available through netflix, which was quite enough. These are presented in the order in which I watched them.
Jane Eyre (2011)
This is a restrained and beautiful film. I loved every minute of it. Mia Wasikowska is a perfect Jane Eyre. Michael Fassbender plays Rochester. I began watching this movie with a bias towards Toby Stephens as the best Rochester, but Michael Fassbender is the sort of person you can't stop looking at. Judi Dench plays Mrs. Fairfax. Her presence in any film is like the Good Housekeeping seal of approval.
Michael Fassbender as Mr. Rochester
This is a feature length film, but the editing is done so skillfully, the film is so beautiful, you don't mind that parts of the story have been cut out. It starts in the middle, when Jane has just run away from Mr. Rochester, and the story is told in flashbacks--an effective treatment. The scenes from Jane's childhood--the vicious blow to the head from her cousin, the death of her only friend Helen at school are especially well done. And--bonus--several of the actresses would be perfect to play Fanny Price, if someone ever decides to make a good version of Mansfield Park. Mia Wasikowska herself would make an excellent Fanny Price, as would Holliday Grainger who plays Diana Rivers. Everybody in the movie has a wholesome, pink cheeked German look. Jamie Bell, who is stunningly good as Smike in Nicholas Nickleby, plays St. John Rivers and it's a treat to see him again.
Holliday Grainger--the next Fanny Price?
Mia Wasikowska as Jane Eyre
Jane Eyre (2006)
Until I saw the 2011 version, I thought that this Jane Eyre was the best, and it is certainly still a strong contender. It's a four-hour BBC miniseries, almost as beautiful as the 2011 movie. Toby Stephens plays Mr. Rochester; more playful than brooding and very sexy. Ruth Wilson is Jane Eyre and until I saw the Mia Wasikowska version, I would have called her the best Jane Eyre to date. Pam Ferris plays Grace Poole--a minor character who is edited out of the 2011 version. She is absolutely fantastic, as she sits calmly sewing, vaguely sinister. I also have to give a shout out to Cosima Littlewood who plays Adele, Rochester's ward, because she is so fabulously annoying, pirouetting all over the place. In general, I'm a fan of Tara Fitzgerald, who plays cruel Mrs. Reed. She deserves high praise for her deathbed scene. Christina Cole plays Blanche Ingram, the girl that Rochester is supposedly courting. She seems to have snatched up the bitchy role in every costume drama in the last half of this decade. She was Mrs. Elton in the Romola Garai version of Emma, and Caroline Bingley in Lost in Austen. Also excellent is Claudia Coulter as Bertha Mason Rochester. The scene in which she visits Jane's room in the night is truly terrifying. Having her scream puta at Jane is a nice touch. Overall, I give high marks to this adapation.
Toby Stephens as Rochester.
Ruth Wilson as Jane Eyre.
Jane Eyre (1943)
I had my doubts about a glamorous 1940s movie star like Joan Fontaine as Jane Eyre, but actually, she isn't bad. Orson Wells, on the other hand, plays Mr. Rochester like a sulky boy who's been denied a second helping of dessert. The movie was filmed in black and white, effective for setting a gloomy mood, and sometimes the cinematography is beautiful. Elizabeth Taylor plays Jane's school friend Helen Burns. Other than that, this film doesn't have much to recommend it. Especially obnoxious is the soundtrack, typical of the dramas of its time--loudly clashing horns at the dramatic bits, sprightly tunes whenever someone is in a carriage--it's awful. The movie follows the story fairly accurately up to the moment when Jane runs away from Thornfield, then crams the entire second half of the story--the part that took nearly two hours to show in the 2006 version, into the last ten minutes.
Jane Eyre (1996)
If I had known that Franco Zeffirielli had directed a version of Jane Eyre, I'd have seen it right away, but this movie somehow escaped my radar. It's beautifully filmed, but I'm still partial to the Mia Wasikowska version. Charlottes Gainsbourg is excellent Jane Eyre, and would have been a perfect Fanny Price, if only someone had had the wit to cast her for that role in the 1998 Mansfield Park, instead of Frances O'Connor. I never would have imagined William Hurt for the role of Rochester. He's a sad, sensitive Mr. Rochester, not nearly as sexy as Toby Stephens or Michael Fassbender and there is no chemistry between him and Charlotte Gainsbourg. Elle Macpherson is Blanche Ingram. She's like a stick figure with ringlets. Joan Plowright, another actress I like, is Mrs. Fairfax, and Fiona Shaw--famous for playing Harry Potter's Aunt Petunia--is cruel Mrs. Reed. Samuel West, another one of my costume drama favorites, plays St. John Rivers. He was Leonard Bast in Howard's End and the rapacious cousin in Persuasion. Unfortunately, this movie also severely abbreviates the St. John Rivers part of the story. Anna Paquin is the best of the young Jane Eyres, and that is saying something because they've all been good so far.
Charlotte Gainsbourg and William Hurt as Jane Eyre and Mr. Rochester.
Jane Eyre (1997)
This one stars Samantha Morton as Jane and Ciaran Hinds as Rochester. Gemma Jones, who I always think of as Bridget Jones' mother, plays Mrs. Fairfax. I'm not sure I like Ciaran Hinds as Rochester, although in general I do like him as an actor. He certainly gives Mr. Rochester a lot of personality, but they have him tricked out like a Victorian advertisement for shaving supplies, with a ghastly mustache and sideburns that look like bonnet straps meant to tie his hair to his head. Still, he's Ciaran Hinds, and you can't help forgiving him his bonnet strings. Samantha Morton can't compete with the other Janes mentioned so far. Sorry. This movie is mostly boring.
Jane Eyre (1973)
If there was a famous novel written in the 1800's, the BBC made a low-budget movie of it in the 1970's. Here, Sorcha Cusack and Michael Jayston are Jane and Rochester. You can only watch and roll your eyes at the flimsy sets and awful costumes--Jane's nightgown in the bedroom fire scene is so obviously polyester, you wonder it didn't melt. I realize that Jane isn't supposed to be a fashion plate, but the other movies dressed their Janes with a certain severe charm. This one wears a white pilgrim's collar like a tablecloth, her dress is too large, and she wears her hair in a ghastly bubble around her head. Michael Jayston has a certain amount of verve as Mr. Rochester, but I picture him as more suited to a magazine ad for a top shelf scotch. Actually, he would be perfect as a British version of "The Most Interesting Man in the World."
Like all the early BBC movies, the filming is amateurish--the scene in which Jane hears Mr. Rochester's voice calling to her from miles away made me laugh out loud. This movie is true to the book, but I'm learning that that's not always a virtue in a movie.
Sorcha Cusack as Jane
Jane Eyre (1934)
This movie is billed as the "first talking version" of Jane Eyre. Even with allowances made for the general shittiness of the early filmaking industry's adaptations of classic novels, this movie is pretty bad, starting with the overture, which is the tune to a lullaby. Are we being told a bedtime story? The movie is only an hour long, so it's understandable that they had to make heavy cuts to the story, but why then did they add incidents and characters that never appeared in the book? Jane is dismissed as a teacher at the Lowood "orphanage" after she calls Mr. Brocklehurst an "old crocodile." There's "Sam Poole" a jolly Irish manservant at Thornfield who frightens Jane by driving the carriage too fast. Later, he turns up at St. John Rivers' soup kitchen and breaks the news to Jane about the Thornfield fire. Adele gets stuck in a tree and Jane has to climb up after her, a perfect opportunity to be gallantly rescued by Mr. Rochester. Virginia Bruce plays Jane like she's Miss American College Girl, 1934. In one scene, after hearing Mrs. Rochester laughing in the hall and being reassured by Mrs. Fairfax, she skips back to her room, smiling, and finishes a letter with, "I think something strange just happened!" Who is she writing to? Her sorority sisters? Colin Clive is Mr. Rochester. He has as much depth of character as a cereal box.
The Happy Couple
Jane Eyre (1983)
I try to stay away from the amazon customer reviews when I'm writing these movie posts because I don't want to be influenced, but I cracked about halfway through my Jane Eyre marathon and learned that the Amazon customer reviewers consider this Jane Eyre to be The Jane Eyre. Timothy Dalton and Zelah Clarke are Rochester and Jane. I could tell from the photographs that this was another low-budget BBC affair and prepared to be underwhelmed, but there's something about this movie that grabs your attention. The acting is good enough that the cheap sets and costumes don't distract you. This movie has the best Mr. Brocklehurst of them all. I have seen a parade of Mr. Brocklehursts, and this one made me sit up and take notice. Here was The Mr. Brocklehurst (played by Robert James).
This movie is not as pretty as the 2011 and 2006 versions, but it is strangely absorbing. And Timothy Dalton is hawt as Rochester. He actually outhots Michael Fassbender and Toby Stephens. My one complaint is the long scenes of dialogue between Jane and Rochester. One's attention will wander. This movie (11 half-hour episodes) is the most comprehensive in terms of portraying everything that happens in the novel. I would watch it again.
Zelah Clarke: the luckiest woman in the world.
What do you think, dear readers. Have you seen any of these films? What did you think?