Mia Wasikowska as Jane Eyre
Michael Fassbender as Rochester
Judi Dench as Mrs. Fairfax
Jamie Bell as St. John Rivers
Sally Hawkins as Mrs. Reed
Simon McBurney as Mr. Brocklehurst
Amelia Clarkson as Young Jane
Imogen Poots as Blanche Ingram
Sophie Ward as Lady Ingram
Valentina Cervi as Bertha Mason
Su Elliot as Hannah
Holliday Grainger as Diana Rivers
Tamzin Merchant as Mary Rivers
Craig Roberts as John Reed
Lizzie Hopley as Miss Abbot
Jayne Wisener as Bessie
Freya Wilson as Eliza Reed
Emily Haigh as Georgiana Reed
Sandy McDade as Miss Scatcherd
Freya Parks as Helen Burns
Edwina Elek as Miss Temple
Ewart James Walters as John
Judi Dench as Mrs. Fairfax
Georgia Bourke as Leah
Sally Reeve as Martha
Romy Settbon Moore as Adele Varens
Eglantine Rembauville-Nicolle as Sophie
Rosie Cavaliero as Grace Poole
Joe Van Moyland as Lord Ingram
Hayden Phillips as Colonel Dent
Harry Lloyd as Richard Mason
Ned Dennehy as Dr. Carter
Joseph Kloska as Clergyman Wood
Ben Roberts as Briggs
Directed by Cary Fukunaga
Having spent most of her life living in poverty and adversity, 18-year-old Jane Eyre (Mia Wachikowska) gets a job as a governess for the moody and mysterious Edward Rochester (Michael Fassbender) who immediately becomes smitten with the girl, though as she learns, he’s also hiding dark secrets that threaten their future happiness together.
Back before there was a “Twilight” or even a Stephenie Meyer, there were the Brontë sisters, who wrote stirring romances that would strike the fancy of doe-eyed young girls with stories about fiercely independent women resistant to the urges of love but eventually finding seemingly perfect men. The choice of Cary “Sin Nombre” Fukunaga to retell Jane Eyre’s story may be an interesting one, and though he seems more than capable of putting a unique twist on the material, one wonders whether it’s a story that even needs to be retold again in this day and age.
It opens with the title character walking through the rain as she arrives at the home of the pious St. John Rivers (Jamie Bell) and his sisters, and we start to learn how she got there through a series of flashbacks. The film cuts back and forth in time from her days as a young girl being abused, first by her adoptive parents and then by her school’s headmaster, before she becomes a teacher herself. She then gets a job as the governess to an absolutely atrocious little French girl and meets the strict master of the manor, the moody businessman Rochester, and their tenuous relationship inevitably turns to romance.
As might be expected, “Jane Eyre” is a chick flick of the highest order, and it rarely deviates from a rather traditional portrayal of the character despite using its non-linear approach to go backwards and forwards in time to show the key events that influence Jane’s demeanor. In the first flashback, Fukunaga establishes a deeply gothic tone that brings a degree of dark tension to the film that some might find surprising. Otherwise, his film has an interesting look, avoiding the colorful pageantry of most costume dramas for a look more grounded in reality; the score by Dario Marianelli does its best to try to elevate the emotional content, but the music is used too sparingly in some places and overused in others.
Australia’s Mia Wachikovska, who was as emotive in “The Kids Are All Right” as she was stiff in “Alice in Wonderland,” delivers a performance that falls somewhere in between, though she’s still nearly devoid of any sort of emotion for a good portion of the film. Regardless, Fukunaga’s cameras clearly love the actress, languishing for long periods of time on her as she walks through fields staring longingly at nothing. Once Rochester arrives, it doesn’t take long before he’s smitten with Jane and proceeds to chase after her. It’s a great role for Fassbender who ably steps into the role of charming smooth talker, his best lines coming directly from the Brontë text. The scenes between him and Wasikowska offer everything you might want and hope for from a period romance.
Unfortunately, Fukunaga’s film also has serious pacing problems, especially once Jane gets to Thornfield, where it turns into an hour-long flashback. When not playing with the eeriness of Jane’s imposing nearly-empty new home, it’s essentially a lot of flowery dialogue, most of which feels dated and it gets dull quite quickly. The only time that’s not the case is when Dame Judi Dench is on screen, as she has the capacity to appear for but a few brief minutes in a movie to say one line and steal the scene. She doesn’t do so much of that here, but her scenes are certainly the most enjoyable ones.
Eventually, Jane gives in and agrees to marry Rochester, but anyone who thinks they’re going to get a happy ending clearly isn’t familiar with the Brontë story, as the odd occurrences at the castle are finally explained. We’re then back to the opening sequence and things really take a downturn from there once Rochester is out of the picture in favor of Jamie Bell’s lackluster replacement. It’s slightly disappointing that Fukunaga declines even an attempt to give Jane the sort of upbeat ending that’s so necessary after so much has been foisted upon her shoulders, and ultimately, it’s why the film fails.
The Bottom Line:
The umpteenth take on Brontë’s novel takes a unique gothic approach, but the results are grim at times and dull at others, making it hard to appreciate the generally solid performances by Fukunaga’s impressive cast.