Some avid Shakespeare attendees I have found develop an abhorrence for Hamlet. Everyone does Hamlet and it's a very long and arduous play. I knew a woman who refused to see the David Tennant Hamlet at the RCS because she was so over Hamlet. I couldn't imagine this! Every Hamlet is new! and David Tennant! Although Hamlet is not my favorite, so I might have skipped it as well had I not been such a Tennant fan, but we're not going to talk about Shakespeare. We're going to talk about Bronte!
With the recent movie Jane Eyre being the 4th in fifteen years I think that some of us have become a little weary of this particular piece, but not me! It was hard for me to imagine a better telling than the most recent BBC production starring Ruth Wilson and Toby Stephens. At four hours it included everything I loved and gave a new life to the story.
When I heard about the new version I was skeptical at first. The Jane, played by Mia Wasikowska, did not thrill me as she was nothing special in Alice in Wonderland. Rochester looked hunky, but I was concerned that he was barely ten years older than Jane, not close to twenty. The costumes of course (by Oscar winning designer Michael O'Connor) were going to be a win, but even after watching clips online I was unsure about casting and was interested to know how this version could be different or noteworthy among the so many others.
In truth you can't really change Jane Eyre up too much. This version did change the order of things a bit, but that was perhaps the most novel thing about the actual story line, but that was the best part! This version went back to some of the essentials in the book that I feel have been missing from other versions, while updating it enough to make it palatable for the audience. Case in point: the after the wedding scene.
In the Timothy Dalton version this scene is followed faithfully with Rochester going NUTS and throwing the biggest tantrum ever, as the literary Rochester does.
In the Toby Stephens version this scene is split up into memories of Rochester in Jane's room in less than vertical positions.
In the newest version the essence of the book, Jane and Rochester's absolute defeat, is portrayed beautifully, violently on Rochester's side, but without turning the audience off to him. It was just absolutely breathtaking.
Other scenes of note are of course after the fire, when Rochester falls off his horse, and the proposal. The very former was again, breathtaking.
Wasikowska's performance was better than I'd ever hoped. Again, the script returned to the book in such a way that the real, feisty but careful Jane was revealed. I was so pleasantly surprised by her performance. Michael Fassbender was fantastic, and attractive in such a peculiar way that while not being ugly enough for Rochester (no man yet cast has been) had a strange look about him that wasn't entirely knock you over attractive. His portrayal of Rochester I feel was new enough and lovable.
Other performances of note were Dame Judi Dench as Mrs. Fairfax and a never looking better Jamie Bell as St. John (whom, opposite of Rochester, has never been cast handsome enough).
The costumes were perfect to distraction. The accuracy in the women's wear was exhaustive, even down to the little known flap on the front of Jane's chemise to prevent any chance that her corset might be seen. The material choices in the menswear were especially interesting as Rochester's evening ensemble seemed to be some sort of polished cotton. In general Rochester was costumed impeccably, if not mildly stylized and slender. Set in the 40s when the book was written Rochester had a fly front pair of pants, something I'll have to research. I don't doubt O'Connor found research for this. Down to the collars and bustles (not to be confused with the 1870s usage) the costumes were spectacular.
As was the hair and make up. Oh man, so great, and pristine.