Jane Eyre (1996)
Starring William Hurt as Mr. Rochester, Charlotte Gainsbourg as Jane Eyre, and Anna Paquin as Young Jane Eyre
Runtime: 116 minutes (About 2 hours...which is typically the norm for all Hollywood adaptions)
Here is a link to the IMDb page: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0116684/
Right off the bat I'd just like to say whoever gave this movie 4 stars really needs to be their head checked out pretty fast. Upon revisiting this adaption I found myself not liking this version as much as I had when I first bought it. That being said this isn't the worst adaption of Jane Eyre but it's a far cry from the best as well. As per usual with the movies I don't quite enjoy, I'll start with the pros because there are so few of them.
Jane Voiceover: While some people might find this a bit tacky, I rather enjoyed the voiceover that Gainsbourg as Jane provides at the beginning and end of the movie. It gives audiences almost the same feeling as reading the book because Jane is narrating her own story. So many of these adaptions get lost in the romance of Jane and Rochester that they seem to forget that this is Jane's story, her Bildungsroman that we get the chance to experience with her.
Setting and Attire: Everything seemed to be historically accurate to me, but there were a few moments where I was questioning what Rochester was wearing. That green velvet coat he wears half the time made me want to vomit.
The Red Room: I was so happy when I found out this scene actually made it into this version. Usually this makes the cutting room floor in most adaptions despite the fact that it really is a significant event in young Jane's childhood. I just wish that they would have pointed out in the movie that it was the room that Mr. Reed died in because for audiences who haven't read the book I can bet they are a little confused about why Jane is freaking out so much.
Anna Paquin as Young Jane: Out of all the versions I've watched her performance as Jane sticks out for me and I love it so much. None of the others really can compare to it and had this movie lacked her performance I might have considered it one of the worst adaptions. Paquin portrays a feistier Jane than what is represented in the book, but I still love it. She perfectly delivers the line about how she must keep well and never die to avoid hell.
These are the aspects that I really couldn't place in either the pro or con category. You'll see why.
Mr. Brocklehurst: This particular incarnation of Brocklehurst has some hits and some misses. I applaud the fact that the actor has his annoying sermonizing down pat and his particular brand of pious carelessness. In this version Brocklehurst is always hovering around, which is not something he does in the novel. The movie also ignores the hypocritical nature of his character. They make the haircutting scene rather prominent about how the vain girls shouldn't have braids or curls, but the makers of the movie completely missed the opportunity to include the scene where Brocklehurst's family shows up and all the ladies have prettily curled and braided hair.
The Jane and Helen Friendship: I found the representation of their friendship to be incredibly lacking, but I think that has to do with the limited time allotment. So much more could have been included to make the friendship more tender and believable. I do have to say though that I liked the scene with Jane and Helen before she dies. It was really heartbreaking and made me feel incredibly sad for Jane...that being said I think the success of that scene was due to Paquin's great acting.
Here's the part where I list all of the cons, so you better get comfy. Maybe get a cup of tea or coffee :) I do have to say that most of these cons are related to the fact that with a limited time allotment, so much was cut out or edited for the worse. Since there are so many points I'll just be putting them in a bulleted list for convenience.
- The childhood scenes are cut down to the basic essentials. So many significant events are cast aside to be able to devote more time to the Jane and Rochester romance and that sucks. I missed the book scene where John antagonizes Jane and she gets punished for it. Her time at Lowood is also rather spare and lacking detail.
- The musical score for this movie is SO OBNOXIOUS. In the first 5 minutes of the opening sequence I thought it was rather beautiful and then it just went downhill from there. Every scene begins with a crescendo of the same score over and over again and it really takes away from the action. The soundtrack to a movie is supposed to heighten the mood not completely destroy it.
- The highly emphasized hair cutting scene is not exactly like it was portrayed in the book. Neither Helen nor Jane get their hair cut off and Jane isn't so overtly defiant as she is portrayed in this scene. I feel like there were some many interesting childhood scenes in the book that the creator of the movie didn't need to basically invent one to keep the plot during the Lowood scenes from being stagnant.
- The quickness of the story telling was also pretty terrible in relation to Helen's character. We barely get introduced to her and then she gets dispatched rather quickly. I feel like the audience should have been given more scenes with her that way when she dies we can get all emotional over it.
- The representation of the Lowood school is pretty tame in this version. Aside from the frozen water scene we don't see anything inherently wrong with the school. If you've read the book you know it really was lucky of Jane to have survived that place what with the shortages of food and the mass typhus outbreak.
- Here Helen gets a pretty substantial gravestone whereas in the book Helen has no grave marking. When Jane finds out she has inherited her uncle's money she goes back and gets her a gravestone. Speaking of the gravestone, it's also the site of the worst transition I think I've ever experienced in a movie. Not only is it disorienting, but it cuts out SO much of the story. We never get to see Jane grow up or become a teacher. We never see how Helen's death affects the young Jane.
- Miss Temple's character is also cut back pretty substantially and even changed. One of the factors that causes Jane to advertise for a governess position in the first place is because Miss Temple is getting married and leaving Lowood. This would leave Jane without any real friend at the school. Their friendship also goes beyond Miss Temple giving her lofty advice. I also want the movie to show me that Miss Temple and Jane have developed a great friendship throughout the years not have Jane tell me "Oh Miss Temple you are my one true friend." The whole point of the movie is to show me what I've been reading. If it can't do that I might as well read the book instead.
- Gainsbourg as Jane: While Gainsbourg does look like the same age as Jane should be, she is rather gangly and awkward in some of her scenes. Not to mention she severely lacks inflection in her voice. Every line is given in that same hushed voice that does nothing to help the mood of the scenes. Some variance of emotion would have been lovely.
- Fairfax is a little too chipper and overly friendly in my opinion. She is more like a lovable grandmother.
- There is barely any chemistry between Jane and Rochester. I wrote this con in my notebook 3 times over the course of the entire movie. The problem I have is if you are going to make the conscious decision to cut out a ton of stuff to make room for the Jane and Rochester romance, the least you can do is make sure your actors can pull off some fantastic romantic scenes. So many of them went completely flat. The scene where Jane saves Rochester from burning in his bed had no chemistry whatsoever. I think they tried to compensate for the lack of chemistry by zooming in super close and playing that awful romantic music in the background. They also lack the witty back and forth that characterizes their relationship. This movie also never allows their friendship to develop either:(
- The first encounter between Jane and Rochester also completely lacked drama and chemistry. Rather than having it be an ominous foggy day with Jane posting some letters, she randomly decides to abandon Adele in the classroom with ONE math problem while she decides to take a walk. Rochester's accident was so terribly staged that I actually laughed out loud when he fell down. Rather than have the horse buck or have Rochester hit a patch of ice, Hurt's Rochester awkwardly looks back at Jane, conveniently rides his horse into the soft grass and then randomly topples over. It was so awful and unbelievable.
- There was no gypsy scene, so it's yet another opportunity missed the ratchet up the chemistry between Jane and Rochester. Not to mention that would have been a great way to have some character development for Jane.
- St. John's character is completely screwed up and is hardly recognizable from the book. Apparently now he doubles as a lawyer who tells Jane that she has inherited from her uncle and he only has one sister. Not to mention the fact that Jane comes to him when she finds out her aunt is sick?!?
- There is no struggle for Jane when she leaves Rochester after she finds out about Bertha. She doesn't wander the moors. Instead she purposely rides a carriage to St. John's house where she melodramatically collapses. Because St. John already knows who she is there is no lying about her name. Instead he gives Jane her inheritance, thereby eliminating the storyline where Jane works as a schoolteacher. The movie even fast forwards so we don't get any relationship building between St. John and his sister. We get a voice that again that tells us and doesn't show us that the three of them are friends.
- Remember the scenes after Jane leaves to see her dying aunt. I mean the random montages of Rochester and Adele. I ask you WHY must there always be a STUPID CLIFF scene to indicate that the characters are thinking deeply. Can we all just agree to end that stupid cliché and find something different. Good?...good.
- Jane's awesome speech, you know the one that everybody connects with this book. The speech where Jane asserts her independence while revealing to Rochester that she has come to care for him, well that gets cut short!!! I love that speech and it really pissed me off that it was spat on by the creators of this film. Jane just whines and blubbers her way through part of the speech before Rochester interjects. Not to mention that this romantic scene is supposed to take place by that iconic tree that gets hit by lightning and it doesn't.
- What follows that scene is the creepiest kissing scene that I have ever encountered in my entire life. It's like he molests her face and she really doesn't look like she's enjoying him slobber all over her cheeks and eyelids. When she kisses him, it's so painfully awkward and lacks any sort of passion that I ended up looking away until it was over.
- There are no scenes after Jane accepts his proposal. He doesn't take her shopping nor does he buy her anything. They also don't have any cute post proposal interaction.
- There is no veil ripping scene with Bertha and at the wedding yet again Jane has no emotion when she finds out about the existence of Bertha. In fact all of the emphasis for some reason is placed on MRS. FAIRFAX!!! HUH. We get like a solid two minutes of Fairfax looking all emotional when this moment is not about her!!
- Additionally to cram more plot events into the limited time frame the fire at Thornfield happens as Jane is leaving Rochester. As a result, logically she should have known about it. Don't you think she would have looked back at least once and saw the ton of smoke in the air. A giant estate burning would be pretty hard to miss I'd expect.
- The whole scene where Jane hears Rochester is also completely messed up. The scene takes on particular significance because even far away the two of them are connected and Jane can't help but run to a suffering Rochester. Instead she hears him and leisurely talks to St. John about marrying him which if you stop listening for a few seconds you'll never know happened.
- Rochester is never at Ferndean. Instead he seems to inhabit an unburnt corner of Thornfield where Mrs. Fairfax takes care of him rather than John and Mary.
- Rochester's injuries are also not accurately represented and nobody tells Jane what happened. She walks in to find the house is burnt and Rochester is blind and she doesn't ask a single question. I have no suspension of disbelief at this point.
- The final scene is so full of clichéd dialogue and complete lack of chemistry yet again that it ends the movie at the lowest point possible. As if that wasn't enough, the terrible movie soundtrack kicks in again to remind you that there is no possible way you will get any enjoyment from Jane and Rochester finally getting together.
As you can probably tell from the substantial list of cons, I didn't particularly enjoy this version. I acknowledge that some of the plot has to be cut in order to make the 2 hour limit, but I hate that at some points in the movie the story is unrecognizable. If you are looking for a movie adaption to introduce you to the story of Jane Eyre or like me you read the book and want to see a movie adaption, I urge you not to pick this one up. It doesn't do the book justice.
If you liked this post well you're in luck. There are still plenty of movie adaptions to cover, so stay tuned for my next Jane Eyre Watch-a-thon post.