Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Jane Eyre Watch-a-thon Finale!: Jane Eyre (2006)

Dear readers, we are finally here and honestly I can't believe how long this journey took! Months ago I was determined to carry on this watch-a-thon series with Jane Eyre, one of my favorite books. After watching every movie adaption and taking copious notes, it's time for me to tackle the last movie in this series. I think it's only appropriate that we end with the adaption that is nearest and dearest to my heart.
Jane Eyre (2006)
Ruth Wilson as Jane Eyre
Toby Stephens as Mr. Rochester
This version was released as a mini series in 4 parts with a total runtime of 230 minutes.
Here is a link to the IMDb page for more information: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0780362/

Oh Masterpiece Theatre, what would the world do without you! My experience with book to movie adaptations of the classic variety is that the masterpiece label usually guarantees that the production value will be lavish and the content will follow the source material closer than any other adaption. This particular version of Jane Eyre is no different. Let me tell you. Once you watch the masterpiece or pbs adaptions, every other adaption will be ruined for you. When I first started looking for movie adaptions of Jane Eyre forever ago, I loved the 1996 version with William Hurt. At that time, I hadn't watched the Timothy Dalton version, nor this one. I bought the dvd and rewatched it religiously. One day I noticed that Ovation was playing a complete miniseries of Jane Eyre and I just had to watch it. (The mini series being the one we will be talking about today). Almost four hours later, I had reached the point of no return. No other adaption could compare to this one and that statement, if I'm going to be honest, still holds true today. That is not to say that I don't recognize the glaring flaws in this adaption. In fact, I made much more of an effort to look for the downsides in order to provide less of a biased review. Then again all reviews are based on personal opinion, so there you go.

Rather than break up this review into pros and cons as I've done in the past, I think I'm going to stick with the layout where I reveal the natural progression of my thoughts as the movie unfolded. As always this review will be comprehensive, so there will be spoilers. You have been warned.

As with the majority of the adaptions I've covered, this movie seems to drop the ball on Jane's childhood years. I think so many filmmakers are concerned with Jane and Rochester's romance that they overlook the importance of her childhood. Here I think that Masterpiece kind of let me down. All of the childhood scenes feel very stylized, which isn't necessarily bad. The problem is so much focus is placed on all of the scenes looking visually engaging that not much of the story is relayed. We get a few brief scenes of her time at Gateshead as well as a few scenes of her time at Lowood. The unfortunate reality is if you haven't read the book beforehand, you'll have no idea what's going on. Mr. Brocklehurst is never named and he doesn't express anything remarkable to differentiate himself from the other portrayals of the character. For whatever reason, I didn't find Georgie Henley's performance as Young Jane very captivating. She felt kind of flat. Again at Lowood we get a stylized scene of girls crying and coughing, but no mention of the Typhoid outbreak. Then before you know it, Helen is dead. There is literally one scene where Jane and Helen talk together and then the next she is dead. Yeah, it's a little hard to believe the two of them were the best of friends after that level of interaction.
"Hey I just met you and this is crazy, but we've had one conversation, so best friends maybe?"
There are no scenes of Young Jane being educated at Lowood and then the movie jumps forward in time to Jane teaching young students how to draw. I double checked the time stamp to make sure I was right and in this almost 4 hour long adaption, only 15 minutes of it are spent on her childhood. That really disappoints me every time I watch it. 

While I wasn't a fan of the style/substance discrepancy of the adaption, I do have to say this is one of the best musically scored versions. It doesn't have those keening oboe soundtracks that every other version is so found of nor does it have the earsplitting soundtrack of the 1943 version. Much of the gothic atmosphere is conveyed by the music in just the right amount, but it also amplifies all of the tender moments that occur throughout the film. 

Of course you can't talk about a Jane Eyre adaption without spending a little bit of time discussing the literary figure many women swoon over: Mr. Rochester. Here the choice of Toby Stephens as Mr. Rochester provides the audience with a much more handsome interpretation of the Byronic hero. I would be lying if I said I didn't find him attractive in this role.
Brooding smolder at its finest
While he is much more conventionally handsome than Rochester is described in the novel, I don't really care because Toby Stephens' acting is on point. He's one of those actors that I love to see in period dramas. When I found out he played Gilbert Markham in the adaption of The Tenant of Wildfeld Hall, I happily freaked out a bit. Anyway, he portrays just the right amount of brooding and rudeness to reflect the byronic traits, but not to the extreme extent that they alienate you a la Welles 1943 version. I really like that this version does take some time to portray Rochester's tormented past in scenes scattered throughout the narrative. Audiences get to see Bertha's slow progression into madness and a young Rochester struggling to maintain a happy marriage with a woman his family pressured him into wedding. Even the story of how he took Adele on as his ward gets some lavish flashback scenes full of emotion. Out of the context of the rest of the adaption, I love these scenes. Since the romance between him and Jane is usually the focus of these adaptions, not much time is usually spent on his backstory with the exception of the requisite Bertha reveal. What sucks is I feel like we get Rochester's backstory at the cost of Jane's childhood. Since this adaption is so Rochester focused, it feels like this is Mr. Rochester's story, not Jane's...and that's not right. As I've said time and time again Jane Eyre isn't supposed to be the story of Jane and Rochester's romance. The primary focus is Jane's personal growth and her struggle to find happiness in spite of the bleak moments in her life.

The one casting choice I really didn't understand in this adaption has to be the actress they chose to play Adele: Cosima Littlewood.

I'm going to be blunt. She is way too old to be playing Adele. Adele's naivete and her spoiled, childish nature fit a younger child who doesn't really know any better. In some ways that makes her likable and endearing. Here having an older actress portray those same traits makes Adele seem preening and annoying as hell. As a result, I personally didn't really enjoy many of the scenes she was in.

Since I've somehow ended up on this tangent of critiquing the performances of all the actors, it's only right that I spend a chunk of time on the most important character in this whole adaption: Jane Eyre. Part of the reason I really enjoy the 2006 version the best has to be Ruth Wilson's performance as Jane.

While some people might be opposed to this particular casting choice, since Ruth is much too attractive to be the plain Jane and she looks much closer in age to Mr. Rochester, I don't find fault with the choice. As Jane, she provides one of the most well acted, emotionally poignant performances I've seen out of all of the adaptions. She brings the character I love to read about to life on screen. I think I could spend quite a lot of time singing her praises, but for my sake and yours (since you've been waiting a long time for this finale) I'll try to keep it brief. Ruth's incarnation of Jane gives audiences the full spectrum of her character. Often we see her steadfastness of character and fierce independence. Then we get glimpses into Jane's deep self doubt and insecurity, particularly when she starts to develop romantic feelings for Mr. Rochester.

 One of my favorite scenes has to the portrait drawing one where Jane takes the time to do a self portrait and then draw in detail what she imagines the beautiful Blanche will look like. In this one scene, she manages to convey Jane's insecurities about her appearance while struggling to control her feelings towards Rochester. It's one of her most vulnerable moments. Another notable scene has to be the one when Lady Ingram is railing against governesses and their uselessness while Jane is in the room. Poor Jane is basically being insulted right to her face and there is no way she can defend herself, nor does anyone else in the room come to her direct defense. I always love when an adaption includes this scene because it helps to illustrate the awkward position Jane and just governesses historically have held. Often governesses were poorer, unmarried women brought in to be essentially the sole educator and caregiver for the children. As a result, governesses occupied this awkward space were they weren't quite the same as the rest of the servants in the household, but by no means were they considered family. That sort of discrepancy is what makes Jane's place at Thornfield and her feelings for Rochester so complicated. For those interested in a story that illustrates that sort of dynamic in more detail, you should really read Anne Bronte's Agnes Grey. I feel like Anne is always the least appreciated Bronte, despite the fact that her work is superb.

Another great facet of this adaption is that Ruth Wilson and Toby Stephens have some really fantastic chemistry, which brings the romance alive. In the scene when Jane saves Rochester from burning in his bed, you can really feel the tension in the room. Not to mention their conversations with each other are always entertaining and they have some great playful moments. The one that immediately comes to mind is when Jane reminds Rochester that she hasn't been paid yet before she leaves to see her sick Aunt Reed. First, Rochester kindly offers her much more money that he owes her and, of course, Jane refuses him and accepts a lesser amount than is owed to her. This is the following exchange:

Of course their chemistry extends to the some of the more pivotal scenes in the movie, but I don't want to get ahead of myself just yet. 

Other surprising cast members are Pam Ferris (aka the Trunchbull for all my Matilda fans) as Grace Poole.

Then in an unsurprising turn of events, Christina Cole plays Blanche Ingram.
Seriously, I feel like anytime they need someone to play a haughty, beautiful noblewoman who gets her comeuppance in the end, they give Christina a call. Not saying that's a bad thing because that's a character she does very well. I don't think anybody could play Blanche as well as she does in this movie. 

Time to move on to some nitpicking. Just bear with me. I'll never be satisfied until I point them out to you. While I'm glad this adaption chooses to include the gypsy scene, I don't understand why the production would go to all that effort to include it and then not even do it right! Like the Timothy Dalton version, Rochester is supposed to be the gypsy, not hire one. I also like how this version includes Bessie's visit to Thornfield as the bearer of the bad news (or maybe good news?) that Mrs. Reed is almost dead. The problem is the audience doesn't get the chance to know Bessie because the childhood scenes are so short. The older Jane comments on her friendship with Bessie, but we never see any of that in the childhood scenes.

Thankfully, this version doesn't skip over Jane's return to Gateshead. For the most part, this section is fully fleshed out and I really appreciated how they included a scene where Jane has flashbacks from her childhood. It's as if Jane is confronting the demons from her past and gaining some well needed closure. This version even includes a scene or two with her cousins, Georgiana and Eliza. The two of them are often cut out of Jane Eyre adaptions and here we get to see how the two spoiled girls have grown, how they detest each other, and what sort of uncertain futures they face now that their mother is dying. 

Since this adaption has two great lead actors, it's no surprise that the culminating scene where Jane declares herself equal in standing to Mr. Rochester and Rochester subsequently declares his love for her happens to be one of the best that I've seen out of all the adaptions. Jane is given plenty of time for her fantastic speech where she tells Rochester that she isn't an automaton nor a bird in a cage. Rochester even gets plenty of time to explain that he won't be marrying Blanche and loves Jane instead. 

All the emotion Ruth Wilson puts into this scene feels completely authentic, ugly cry and all. For this brief moment, the audience gets to enjoy the culmination of Rochester and Jane's romance and every time I always wish the movie could end there. Sadly, the foreboding image of the tree getting struck by lighting perfectly punctuates that a happily ever after isn't in the cards for Jane and Rochester just yet. 

As a whole I do feel like the adaption does a great job of conveying the gothic mood of the story with the exception of the scene where Bertha rips Jane's veil. I mean that is the scene where Jane kind of knows for certain that there is something a bit more menacing lurking around Thornfield than Rochester lets on. 

As with every Jane Eyre adaption we do get the requisite scenes where Jane finds out about Mr. Rochester's first wife on her wedding day, but this adaption is unique in that we actually see Jane's own private reaction after Bertha is shown to everyone. The camera fixes on Jane as she heartrendingly puts away her wedding dress and then puts her drab, gray governess dress back on. In this one action, Jane already makes her final choice to leave Rochester even before he gets a chance to talk to her. She resigns herself to the sad realization that she can no longer reside with Rochester after he's concealed his first wife's existence. To me that one scene conveys all the loss and heartbreak Jane must feel. 

Now like the newest Jane Eyre adaption, this version makes the decision to break from a linear narrative, but does it in a way that doesn't hinder the audience's understanding of the whole story like the newest adaption does. After Jane lays down in bed, the film flashes forward to Jane wandering the moors, cold, hungry, and destitute. Here Jane collapses and St. John just happens upon her and takes her back to his sisters' home to be cared for. 

Sadly, this version makes the decision to cut out all of the scenes were Jane goes begging for food and the scene where Hannah actually turns her away from Diana and Mary's home. I always hate that this part of the book gets put on the chopping block when film adaptions are created. By showing Jane begging in the streets, it really helps to illustrate the precarious position women held during that time period. You either had a male relative to support you or you were lucky enough to happen upon a paid working position. The reality of life was that unless you were part of a titled family, you weren't that far from poverty. 

For the most part, the scenes with Diana, Mary, and St. John are fully fleshed out. Jane builds friendships with each one of them and it seems like she might find happiness there. St. John arranges for Jane to teach at a children's school and finally this adaption includes St. John's failed romance with Rosamond Oliver, who is shockingly played by none other than Georgia King.

What's hilarious is the way she plays Rosamond in Jane Eyre is exactly how she overacts her character in the movie, Austenland. The voice she uses and her outfits feel almost the same. Anyway, you see here just how cold and distant St. John is when interacting with the woman he loves. He is a man that sacrifices everything for his supposed purpose in life.

It is during this section of the adaption that I find its biggest fault. I mentioned earlier that the movie breaks from its linear story telling when it skips from the failed wedding right to Jane wandering the moors. Well, during her time teaching, the movie flashes back to the moments after the failed wedding. In the book, that section illustrates how Jane refuses to give up her honor and her principles. She acknowledges the love that she has for Rochester, but realizes that a life with him would be a life of sin and would compromise the honest life she's lead so far. Not to mention he lied to her about his first wife the entire time they knew each other. Here the adaption departs from the book to provide the audience with a much more modern, highly romanticized series of flashbacks where Rochester tries to convince Jane to stay with him.

What follows is a lot of chest heaving, kissing, and stroking while Rochester reminds Jane of the love they have for each other and then offers a series of compromises in an attempt to get her to stay. While this scene amps up the romance between the two of them, it doesn't feel right. I find it hard to believe that Jane would agree to something like this after she learns that Rochester has been concealing a wife from her and almost involved her in a bigamist relationship. 

Another aspect of this adaption that I'm not a huge fan of has to be the fact that St. John's proposal and the scene where Jane hears Rochester calling out to her are so close together. Jane isn't given any time to consider that proposal before she rushes off to find Rochester. In that one moment her time with Diana, Mary, and St. John is abandoned.

The plus side is that the reunion scenes personally feel like they are the best out of all of the adaptions. The majority of the adaptions rush the reunion between Jane and Rochester and then use it as the final scene in the movie. Here their interactions are longer like the book. When Jane returns to Rochester is seems like his injuries are accurately represented. Not to mention you can see the marked difference in their characters. Rochester is no longer the powerful and imposing man he once was. Now he is broken down and weak, which is in direct contrast to the independent and forceful Jane. With wealth and confidence to back up her independent convictions, she finally feels superior to Rochester. She's no longer dependent on him and their relationship can now be based purely on love and personal affection.

This adaption ends with the painting of a family portrait. While I do miss the usual narration where Jane announces her decision to marry Rochester, I didn't mind that this adaption ended with everybody gathering together to have an artist paint a family portrait. It really helped to illustrate how far Jane has come. In her childhood, she was rejected, cast aside, and not allowed to be in the Reed's family portrait. Here Jane is happily married and surrounded by people that love her and that she considers family. The adaption finishes on an overwhelmingly happy note and Jane's story finally feels complete. 

As a whole the 2006 adaption of Jane Eyre is engaging while being quite faithful to the book. Despite it's nearly four hour long run time, the adaption doesn't lag behind nor is it mentally exhausting to watch. Every time I watch it, I notice something new and amazing about the film that hadn't noticed before and I feel like every actor gives their best performance. While this adaption does have its flaws, I feel like the actors brought the characters I know and love to life. Whether you are are new to Jane Eyre or read the book plenty of times, this is the adaption I'd recommend every time.

Whew! After what feels like a lifetime spent watching all of the adaptions and taking copious notes throughout, the Jane Eyre Watch-a-thon is finally over. On one hand I'm excited that I got the chance to do this and on the other, I'm a bit sad that it's finally over. Sometimes I love just sitting down and doing a nice long review of a book to movie adaption. I hope that you've enjoyed this series as much as I have and I'd love to hear your own personal thoughts on the adaptions. For those worried that this will be the last Watch-a-thon series, have no fear! I definitely plan on doing this again, but right now I haven't decided on which book I should cover next. It's hard to simultaneously pick a book that you love that also has numerous film adaptions created from it. In the interim, there will be some new blog series headed your way and I'll be hard at work finding a new book to feature in this series. I hope you enjoyed this journey and if you haven't already, check out the Pride and Prejudice Watch-a-thon I did last year.