Sunday, November 28, 2010

Jane Eyres

With the upcoming March 2011 release of a NEW Jane Eyre I thought I'd review the past versions. To some outside the costume drama circles it might seem strange or ridiculous that there are so many versions of the same story, but those in the know know that British literature lends itself to wonderfully different interpretations. Sadly, not all interpretations are created equal. If you'll permit me I'll now give you my opinions about five versions and what I think of what I've seen of the new Jane Eyre.

Ok, so truth be told the first two reviews are going to be rather short and broad b/c I just watched the pivotal scenes on Netflix. First up, Orson Welles and Joan Fontaine in the 1943 movie. By pivotal scenes I mean the proposal and the reunion. I watched a few more from this version because I didn't mind it too much, but here are my impressions, characterization wise, costume wise, production wise and overall wise.
Characterization: Run of the mill. You'll find with most Jane Eyres that Jane, b/c she's supposedly so plain and small, is played very subdued and deadpan. Rochester was pretty similar, VERY deadpan. There was very little fire and passion, but Welles made up for it with his RIDICULOUSLY sexy voice. He was rather captivating but she was nothing to scream about, too beautiful.
Costumes: Run of the mill. Made in 1943 the costumes had a very 40s feel to them, mostly in the menswear (what's with normal pointed collars? I should NOT see Rochester's neck, weird). Jane's hair was beautiful in a perfect, subdued, coming out of the 30s, into the 40s, looking historical sort of way. The costumes were more 1840s than 1830s which is when the novel is set (written in the 40s, tells the story of ten years prior).
Production: What you'd expect of a 1940s romance, very Casablanca. Lots of maudlin shots of the heroine with glistening tears and the man looking brooding.
Overall: It seemed like a pretty straight interpretation of the novel, with exact lines from the book. It really had the subdued feel of a 40s movie.

Oh William Hurt. I thought I'd watched bits of this on Netflix but it's not on Instant Play, so maybe it used to be, or maybe I actually had it sent to the house, I don't know. I barely remember it though...For being a Zeffirelli you'd think it would have made more of an impression, but it didn't. So, Rochester played by William Hurt, Jane by Charlotte Gainsbourgh, from 1996. Rochester was more passionate than Welles, but I remember thinking he wasn't as passionate as real Rochester. Gainsbourgh as Jane I do remember, totally underwhelming. Yes, Jane is poor, obscure, plain and little, but she's NOT soulless and heartless. Jane's written witty and clever and refreshing for Rochester. Gainsbrough was completely lifeless. The proposal scene was painful. I can't remember enough else to give you a good review about anything else.

Jane Eyre '97. Rochester=Ciarin Hinds, Jane= Samantha Morton. This version tried to be sufficiently moody.
Characterization: Rochester was temperamental, probably the closest to the book as any of the Rochesters so far. Hinds, whom I adore in Persuasion and other films, groused about and had a mustache and was probably ugly enough for Rochester, but lacked the lovableness that one gains for him as the novel progresses. Samantha Morton. Not. a. fan. I always feel like she needs to sniff her nose to keep it from dripping. She plays Jane soft spoken and timid. I watched this one awhile ago so I can't remember much else. Yes I am prejudiced against the woman, but I don't remember much to dissuade my prejudice.
Costumes: Fine, again, set further back in the 1840s. I remember Rochester being a little too big, like his silhouettes didn't do it for me. Jane was plainly dressed of course, and I don't remember enough petticoats. One could argue this was a choice to show her reduced circumstances. Nothing to write home about.
Production: Dark, bleak, very Bronte.
Overall: Not a fan. At about 100 minutes (which all the versions have roughly been thus far) it rushes a great story. I hate to be away from Rochester too, but rushing their separation is a disservice to Jane's development.

Alright! Here we go. I read Jane Eyre in 10th grade and loved it. After I read it I went straight out and rented this version, and got it for my subsequent Christmas. Timothy Dalton is Rochester, Zelah Clarke is Jane, 1983. I love this version, it was my favorite for a couple of years.
Characterization: Rochester is very passionate but lovable. Of course Timothy Dalton is no where near ugly enough, or ugly at all, to play Rochester, which truth be told we are all grateful for. He's tall and dark and has his growly Welsh baritone. His characterization is very changeable and I feel like the closest to the book. Zelah Clarke as Jane switches between looking and seeming 19 and looking and seeming much older, which I think is a hallmark of Jane. She's sharp like she is in the book and when called for she's just as passionate as Rochester. I think she's also the most appropriate portrayal of the novel's Jane.
Costumes: Set in the 1830s! Yes! I have nothing against setting the film in the 40s because the costumes are all together more palatable for the modern palette, but I can't help but love the 30s and this version has done them up right. Rochester's costumes are a little dated but I love that his neck is pasty white (b/c it really never would have seen the light of day. Jane's costumes, while plain and grey are the perfect examples of 1830s gigot sleeves. Her collars are adorable and everything is piped! The hair is also fantastically 30s with many a style a la Chinoise in the house party.
Production: Overall the production value was rather poor. The lighting was awkward or dark, the faces needed powdering desperately and the overall film quality was rather awful but the locations were good and the set dressings very appropriate.
Overall this is my second favorite Jane Eyre. It is probably the truest to the book in my mind with its characterizations, lines and storytelling. It is also something like 4 hours so it really tells the story like it should. The supporting characters are lovely. If you need to cheat and watch a movie instead of reading the book I'd say this is your best bet.

Oh baby, oh baby. 2006. Rochester=Toby Stephens, Jane=Ruth Wilson. I waited and waited for this version to come to the US on Masterpiece Theatre and I have journal entry after journal entry from the Sundays it was on extolling this version's virtues.
Characterization: Definitely modernized. Rochester is grouchy and changeable, but much more dragged down and worn. With extra pounds of muscle and long curly hair Stephens is of course, again, too beautiful to play Rochester, but again, we don't mind. His Rochester is lovable and vulnerable in a way the others aren't. Scenes and lines have been added pointing to Rochester's dependence on Jane even before he declares his love. The reunion is heart warming and tear jerking. Stephen's Rochester is a man's man while still being absolutely desperately in love. Wilson's Jane is the feistiest and most full of character of any Jane I've seen. She acts a lot from just looks, something I think that is lost in other versions. There's no ignoring that she has a duck face and no chin, making her plain enough for Jane, but she has a beauty, especially with her hair down, that makes sure we like her. The relationship between the two really develops and you understand why they are drawn together.
Costumes: 1840s, great. I LOVE Rochester in this one, mostly because Stephens put on so much muscle weight that is excellently shown off by his tight breeches and high boots. Jane's costumes are appropriately plain, but well fitting. The house party's costumes are what there is to scream about. I just love them all.
Production: Excellent, of course. The modern BBC productions are unparalleled. The locations were breathtaking, the set dressing meticulous and the attention to detail was greatly appreciated. The supporting characters, with their own personalities and new characterizations and scenes were enjoyable and made our time away from Jane and Rochester bearable.
Overall: My favorite, duh. It is a very modern version. Time has been played with, esp with the after the wedding flashbacks. I don't mind it. This version is a lot more smoochy than any others. I don't mind. At four glorious hours this version also takes its time, but doesn't dwell too much with little Jane, a vital portion of the story I know, but once you've read it you don't need the entire back story on film. I just love this version for all its little extra touches which I feel don't take away from the story or the original novel.
Alright, new Jane Eyre. Due out March 2011 starring Michael Fassbender and Mia Wasikowska. Fassbender's been in 300 and other things I haven't seen. Of German/Irish decent he sure looks like a hunk. Mia Wasikowska (say that 3 times fast) was Alice in Alice in Wonderland. I was underwhelmed by her in that one, let's hope she brings more to the table with this one.
Characterization: Fassbender's 33 in real life, compared to Wasikowska's 21 I don't think the difference is enough, but there you go. I'm not going to complain TOO too much, b/c I mean, look at Fassbender, yum. Meanwhile, how weird is it that Wasikowska's younger than me? Weird. Anyway, moving on. Rochester looks rather brooding, but not dark enough. We'll see if Jane falls into the timidity, no personality trap. Judi Dench as Mrs. Fairfax is exciting!
Costumes: By Michael O'Connor!! of Oscar winning "The Duchess" fame! So excited. Again, set in the more palatable 1840s these costumes look GORGEOUS! Jane's look quite fancier than any I've seen, but I'm not one to say O'Connor nay for dressing her mildly above her station. The striped dresses alone of Jane and Blanche are enough for me. Also, watch the trailer above and checkout the shot at 1.36, yum yum Rochester's pants w/ his skinny skinny waist. Also, he rides that horse.
Production: Looks pretty great, big budget stuff.
Overall: I'm excited. The trailer claims that it's a bold new look at the novel. From the trailer I see nothing that's especially different from any other version. If they're playing up the Gothic, Romantic and horrific elements of the story I'd say that's slightly new, but not unheard of. Jane Eyre is a creepy, scary, unsavory story with fires, insanity, disfigurement and creepy laughs. It looks to me like this one might just capitalize on this more than others. I'm excited to see Sally Hawkins and Jamie Bell again, and I'm sure I'll have to buy this one.

1 comment:

  1. The thing I like about Stephens is that he's the Rochester I see in the book. Not looks-wise, but personality-wise. I don't think Timothy Dalton is too pretty for Rochester ... *cough* I get what you mean about Hinds's silhouettes: it makes me want to howl "YES, your bum looks big in those!" There are parts where he has a different cut of trouser and it looks a LOT better on him.

    Anyway, interesting to read a post that focuses on the clothing in the different adaptations. :) You should see the BBC miniseries and the American movie from the early 1970s. Would be fun to hear what you have to say about those costumes. Especially the American movie. I know nothing (or at least very little) about period clothing, but even I can tell there's something fundamentally wrong about what they're wearing in that one! Looking forward to March and the new movie. :)