Jane Eyre (1983)
Timothy Dalton as Mr. Rochester
Zelah Clarke as Jane Eyre
This version clocks in at around 5 hours, but luckily is chopped up into 11 episodes.
Here is a link to the IMDb page: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0085037/
This was my second watching of this version and boy were there a lot of things that I missed when I watched this the very first time. I will right off the bat say that this is my second favorite adaption, but not a close second. I'll let the rest of my review explain why.
Normally I would start off with the cons, but I think it's time I switched it up. Pros first!!
- The first pro that I encountered in this version was the intro. The voice-over that Zelah does is word for word the first lines in the book. Like I mentioned in my Jane Eyre 1996 review I like having adult Jane provide the voice overs for the movie. By having her voice guide the viewers its almost as if Jane is telling her own story like the book. Quite a bit of the dialogue is also lifted right from the book and that is something in an adaption that I really appreciate
- Jane's childhood in this particular version is finally given the time and detail that it deserves. So many of these adaptions cut Jane's childhood short to get right to the Rochester action and I find that it doesn't give Jane's awesome character the respect that it deserves. Here we get every single event that happens at Gateshead before Jane leaves for Lowood. The Red Room scene is finally given detail and explanation so those who haven't had the time to read the book know exactly what is going on. Bessie is also a fully fleshed out character, which none of the other adaptions have managed to do.
- Jane's time at Lowood isn't cut short either. Viewers get plenty of time to see Jane as a student where her intelligence helps her gain the praise of all her teachers. The actress who plays Miss Temple in this version is complete perfection and her character gets all the scenes she is due. We see her provide food for the girls when their breakfast is inedible and the scene where she invites Jane and Helen to tea is also in here. Her marriage in the movie is what provides the transition from Jane as a student to Jane as a teacher and viewers actually get to experience Jane unhappiness as a teacher when Miss Temple, her only real friend, leaves.
- Mr. Brocklehurst and the awful state of Lowood school are accurate as well in this particular version. While I would have appreciated more scenes with Mr. Brocklehurst in them, the ones that are present are completely accurate, compared to the ones they manufacture for their own purposes in the 1996 version. Like the book, the Brocklehurst here doesn't immediately call out Jane as a liar, he only remembers to do so on one of his few visits to the actual institution. In the 1996 version Brocklehurst seemed to always be hovering around somewhere and thankfully here he isn't. The bit about the hair cutting also isn't inaccurately emphasized and through a voice-over Jane explicitly makes reference to the Typhus outbreak which caused the deaths of many students.
- Timothy Dalton as Rochester: His portrayal of Mr. Rochester is the BEST part of this adaption. That accent!!! He has a perfect range of emotions and captures Rochester rough, sometimes too rough, character. He also pulls off some pretty great chemistry with Zelah despite her slightly lackluster performance. He even accurately portrays the fortune telling gypsy, which is a scene that many adaptions either alter or cut out completely. If Dalton hadn't been in this adaption it would definitely not be my second favorite.
- The scene where Rochester and Jane meet for the first time on the road is perfectly gothic and full of emotion. Rochester's accident was entirely believable and executed well.
- This version is the only one to accurately portray the struggles that Jane encounters after she leaves Rochester. While the begging scenes were uncomfortable to watch and to read for that matter I feel that they are integral to the story. Viewers get to see how difficult it was for women to find work in the 19th century. Not to mention it really emphasizes the struggle that Jane's character is faced with the moment she leaves Rochester. I just hate it when other adaptions have Jane magically find her way to St. John. I'd also like to point out that these scenes were the only ones where I thought Zelah did a magnificent job portraying believable emotion.
Now how about we tackle the long list of cons that I managed to accumulate over the course of the 5 hours it took to watch this adaption
- Zelah Clarke as adult Jane: I found her performance as Jane to be incredibly weak and when I went over my notes to write this post the one con that I repeat over and over is the fact that she can't carry any of the emotional scenes. Aside from the begging scenes, every time Zelah is faced with an emotional scene she breaks the mood because it instantly becomes full of nauseating melodrama. This completely ruined the proposal scene for me and the scene where Rochester tries to convince Jane to stay with him.
-Another problem I had that is tied to Zelah Clarke's portrayal of Jane is her age. In the book Jane is about 18 or 19 years old, but Zelah in this version looks to be about in her 30s. Now normally I wouldn't complain about the ages of the actors portraying Jane; In fact my favorite adaption has a Jane that isn't exactly the same age as she is in the book. The problem is that this version constantly makes reference to how "Jane is only just a girl of 19" or "Jane you are so young and inexperienced" and even "Jane, Mr. Rochester could be your father." If you are going to have an older actor portray Jane the least you could do is remove the numerous references to her age. When Mrs. Fairfax uses all of those sayings when trying to deter Jane from marrying Rochester I laughed out loud for a solid 5 minutes. Nothing quite like telling a 30 year old she is so young and inexperienced. By those calculations Rochester would have to be about 60 years old.
- Helen Burns: For some strange reason it seems that much of Jane and Helen's relationship made the cutting room floor and that made me so disappointed. Viewers get a glimpse of her piety, morality, and kindness, but we hardly get to see their friendship blossom. Additionally for some strange reason they cut her death scene entirely, which robs everyone of a tender and emotionally wrought scene. With so much detail added to Jane's childhood I have to wonder why the most significant part of her childhood is left unexplored.
- The transitions between scenes are rather jerky and confusing...that is when the filmmakers decide to put them in at all. In fact many scenes completely lack transitions at all, which makes it all the more annoying when they cut out scenes and jump forward in time. I was positively angry when there was no semblance of a transition between Fairfax warning Jane away from Rochester and the veil tearing scene. If you've read the book you know there are a ton of events that happen in between that are confusingly cut out like when Rochester takes Jane shopping in the new coach. The complete lack of helpful transitions ultimately made the action in the movie very choppy and jarring.
- Blanche: The portrayal of Blanche in this movie was positively weak and I never saw her as a romantic rival to Jane. Blanche's lines are cut down to the bare minimum and she hardly ever appears on camera. I miss her annoying upperclass haughtiness and privilege. Not to mention the fact that the scene in which she condemns governesses had no emotional impact and could never have realistically reduced Jane to tears.
- Mrs. Reed's Illness and Death: The scenes involving the ill Mrs. Reed were entirely overacted and melodramatic. Not to mention I just love the highly descriptive line "I am ill" *sarcasm hand*. The cherry on top of this crappy scene sundae is that Mrs. Reed is dispatched rather quickly and we never get any significant moments where Jane interacts with her cousins.
- The awful soundtrack: It seems that both this version and the 1996 version have something else in common. The soundtrack to this film was SO AWFUL. The music was incredibly annoying at times and it was so intrusive. For some reason the makers of this film had the stupid idea that blaring the soundtrack between scenes somehow constituted as transitions. Additionally, there are numerous times where perfectly crafted moods in some of the scenes are completely shattered when the background music starts playing. It even ruins the ending of the film completely for me. When Jane and Rochester finally reunite and she agrees to marry him, I'm so happy for them and that is the emotion that I want to maintain right up until the movie fades to black. Instead, while Jane is giving us an expositional voice over at the end, the music for some reason turns ominous and completely ruins all of my happiness!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
On that exclamation filled note that is all the cons I have for this particular adaption. After considering this movie in general it seems that the true merit of it lies in its faithfulness to the book and the excellent acting of Timothy Dalton. While this isn't the version that I would break out when I have the urge to watch Jane Eyre, its still an adaption worthy of people's time and I don't regret watching it.
I hope to get around to watching another adaption of the fabulous Jane Eyre sometime soon, but until then Best Wishes!