Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Review: Jane Eyre (2011)

DVD Box Art
Ah, Netflix. What would I do without you? I was a bit curious about the "new" version of Jane Eyre for some time, but I didn't really want to go out and buy it or rent it. For one thing, Jane Eyre isn't my favorite story, and plus the PG-13 rating put me off (mostly because I thought, "What on earth could they put in there for a PG-13 rating?", but more on that later). I hadn't heard great things about this adaptation, but I hadn't heard anything really bad either (in other words, I hadn't heard of people absolutely raving about it, but I didn't hear much of anything bad either). With this being my fourth version of Jane Eyre that I've seen all the way through and having read the book years ago, I'm fairly familiar with the story line and did have some preconceived notions on how the story should pan out. That being said, here is my review of it.

After nearly collapsing, Jane Eyre (assuming the name Jane Elliot) is taken in by the Rivers family and nursed back to health. As the Rivers family learns about her harsh childhood and education at Lowood School, Jane reflects on her time at Thornfield Hall,how she fell in love with its owner, Mr. Rochester, and how she came into the care of the River family.

There are quite a few members of the cast from various period dramas. Some of them, however, do not have a whole lot of screen time (in fact, if I hadn't looked at IMDB for some of these, I wouldn't have known about them).

Actor/ActressCharacterAlso Seen In
Mia WasikowskaJane EyreAlice in Wonderland (2010) as Alice Kingsleigh
Jamie BellSt. John RiversNicholas Nickleby (2002) as Smike
Holliday GraingerDiana RiversGreat Expectations (2012) as Estella
Tamzin MerchantMary RiversPride and Prejudice (2005) as Georgiana Darcy
Sally HawkinsMrs. ReedPersuasion (2007) as Anne Elliot
Freya WilsonEliza ReedMr. Selfridge as Violette Selfridge
Judi DenchMrs. FairfaxCranford (2007) as Miss Matty Jenkyns

The Opening Scene: Jane's Flight from Thornfield
The way this version of Jane Eyre is told isn't linear like how the story is usually told. The film starts with Jane fleeing Thornfield and being taken in by the Rivers family with most of the story told through flashbacks. I was worried that the story was going to keep bouncing back and forth between the past and present (which would have added confusion), but luckily there were only a few flashbacks and the last flashback (which is the bulk of the story) was the longest and uninterrupted. It was an interesting take on the story, although a bit unusual since the book actually starts at Jane's childhood at Lowood. I neither loved or hated this way of telling the story, but it was a unique way of telling the story.

I think the film's biggest problem was the time constraint. Jane Eyre is roughly five hundred pages (give or take by different editions) which has been condensed to two hours. Two hours may even be too short for some Jane Austen books that are much shorter than Jane Eyre. Granted, some films tell the story in two hours and still do a decent job of it, but in this movie everything felt rushed. Jane's time at Lowood and her romance with Mr. Rochester went by very quickly and it felt like there wasn't enough time to fully develop the story. Another thing I noticed is that if you are familiar with the book, you can also tell where some scenes were merged together. For example, in the book (and other adaptations), Jane leaving the drawing room and being confronted by Mr. Rochester about her being depressed was a different scene from the scene where Mr. Mason arrives at Thornfield, but here they were merged together in one scene. If you are new to the story, you probably wouldn't notice so much, but if you did, you'll definitely notice differences like that.
Mia Wasikowska as Jane Eyre

But now onto the review of the characters.

I wasn't incredibly fond of Mia Wasikowska's Jane. She was too quiet. No, literally. I had to flip to captions halfway through the movie. I'm not entirely sure if it was a audio problem or a Mia Wasikowska problem (although I was able to hear the rest of the cast with little/no trouble, and she was quiet in Alice in Wonderland). I suppose Jane could have been very soft spoken, but I usually picture her as having a regular voice but just not saying a whole lot. But besides that, she seemed like an okay Jane, but nothing made her stand out from other actresses who had played the role. She had all the right components of the Jane in the book: the strong morality, the proper governess, her feelings towards Mr. Rochester; however, there wasn't anything special in her performance to set her apart from other actresses. I think other actresses simply did a better job with the role than she did.

"So, do you come to this estate often?" (Not a quote from the
movie, I swear!)
Michael Fassbender as Mr. Rochester.
So, Mr. Rochester is my least favorite hero in all of literature/period dramas, so there was little chance that I was going to be all that fond of him in this movie (although from my review of the 1983 version, I gave Timothy Dalton props for doing an accurate Mr. Rochester despite my not liking him). Michael Fassbender already had that going against him, but in the end, I ruled against his Mr. Rochester. I thought he was little too flirty to be Mr. Rochester (in that one scene, he put a flower into Jane hair and fixed it -- bearing in mind that they weren't even engaged yet). I mean, isn't he supposed to be rough and cold a good part of the time? Heck, Jane thought that she was nothing to him until he proposed to her. With this Mr. Rochester, there shouldn't be any surprise to Jane that he was interested in her. Would she have even believed that he was even interested in Blanche Ingram? And besides that, he wasn't gruff and rude like Mr. Rochester was supposed to be: this guy was way too nice. Newcomers to the story would rather wonder why I dislike this character so much: that's because the actual character is more of a jerk. So while Michael Fassbender's Mr. Rochester was maybe more likable, he was off from the actual character.

The Rivers Family
The Rivers family was portrayed okay and I liked them, except for the fact that there is no mention of their being Jane's cousins. Wasn't the fact that they were her cousins the reason Jane split up her inheritance? Instead, Jane is (unofficially) adopted into their family as a sister, which seemed a bit awkward and sudden to me. It would have made more sense just to mention that they were Jane cousins; it would take like, what? a minute tops? And then everything would have made more sense. But other than that, they were okay. St. John was likable (okay, I know you're not supposed to particularly like him, but still), and I almost wish Jane had married him: he's certainly more stable than Mr. Rochester. Diana and Mary Rivers seemed like pleasant people and immediately take to Jane, but they don't play a big part in the story, so we don't see much of them.

Sally Hawkins as Mrs. Reed
There were some familiar period drama greats cast in smaller roles (namely Judi Dench and Sally Hawkins, who period drama fans will recognize from Cranford and Persuasion (2007) respectively). While I do like both actresses, I think the roles that they were placed in weren't great fits for them. Judi Dench did a good job as Mrs. Fairfax, but why would you cast a great like Judi Dench in such a small role? I don't know what else she could have done in this Jane Eyre, but in my opinion, it was a waste of a great actress. That would be like casting Colin Firth to be man in shop for Pride and Prejudice: he's capable of so much more. And Sally Hawkins just wasn't right for the role of cruel Mrs. Reed. Granted, in this version Mrs. Reed might even invoke your pity, but still, it was like watching Persuasion's Anne Elliot trying to be mean -- it doesn't work. Maybe she could have been more suited to a part like Miss Temple (who was left out of this film), but definitely not Mrs. Reed.

The last scene of the movie
I had a big issue with the ending. Granted, most versions of Jane Eyre don't spend a whole lot of time about what happens after the wedding (Spoiler Mr. Rochester gaining his eyesight in one eye to see his first child, St. John going off to India End of Spoiler), but all the versions of Jane Eyre that I've seen had decent endings...except this one. Spoiler Instead of "Reader, I married him," pretty much what happens is Jane goes back to Mr. Rochester and they hug and kiss and she says for him to awaken from his dream... and credits. No mention of a wedding. No mention about how he didn't want a nurse. Nothing. End of Spoiler I felt cheated. Just an incredibly rushed, lazy, and abrupt ending. I can't help but feeling that if they didn't have so many kissing scenes (a couple of which didn't even make sense -- Rochester suddenly appearing at Jane's school (given to her by the Rivers), but then it turned out to be St. John?), they could have had a decent ending. Or maybe instead of it being a two-hour movie, it could have been a two-hour-and-fifteen-minutes movie.

One does not simply walk into Mordor.
I did take some issue with the opening scene. Bearing in mind that I'm an American and never been to England, but is it just me or did the opening scene look like it was filmed in Australia or Mordor (for all you Lord of the Rings fans out there)? Seriously, the grass looked so yellow and then the sky turned red and it almost felt like I was looking at a volcano. I know there was probably some artistic license taken, but I usually picture England as being grey overall for a serious story line, but some of the color preserved.

But anyways. The scenery was okay, but nothing very spectacular. Some scenes did have some nice colors in them, which is more than I would expect from a story as serious as Jane Eyre. Lowood was appropriate bleak looking and grim. Thornfield: mysterious and Gothic looking, which would be appropriate. The Rivers' home, very nice and comfortable, though not rich. Decent scenes and sets, but nothing special.

Mr. Rochester and Blanche Ingram
The costuming in this film was done very well. You could see the passage of time just by looking at the costumes. In the scenes from Jane's childhood at Gateshead, you can see that the year would have been sometime in the 1830s due to the big sleeves on Mrs. Reed's dress. But in the more later scenes, you can see the fashions were much more 1840s. Jane was always dressed in either black or grey for a good part of the story, but she did have a brown dress later on which, although fancier than she used to wear, was still fairly plain. The Reeds were always dressed fancy; even in mourning they had their finery on. The Ingrams were decked out in their finery all the time: curls, fancy dresses, etc. I noticed in this version of Jane Eyre that there were more scenes that showed Victorian undergarments more which might interest someone interested in historical fashion.

Overall: 2/5
As an adaptation of Jane Eyre, this was probably one of the worst adaptations I've seen, but as a period drama, it's not entirely bad. I didn't entirely dislike it (in fact, I think I'm more displeased with the sudden ending than anything else), but because it deviated from the book enough, it just wasn't a great adaptation of Jane Eyre. I know, I know. A lot of film adaptations of novels get cut down, changed, and what not (*cough*Sense and Sensibility 1995*cough*), but I think other films have handled it better than this film did. Plus, Jane Eyre isn't a story you can easily convert to a two hour movie, though I thought the 1996 version with William Hurt did a better job of condensing the story (which, ironically enough, was shorter), and it was closer to the original story than this version. And the excessive kissing and unnecessary nude image of this film version don't help the situation. Probably the best thing in this movie was the costuming: of all the Jane Eyre adaptations I've seen, the costuming was probably the best in this movie. But that was probably the only thing it did really well. The rest of the film was a mediocre job. My review probably sounds harsher than I actually feel about this movie, but still, it had faults. This might be one of those movies where you probably should watch it and judge for yourself. I was irked by a couple of things where other people might not be irked by so much.

The film is rated PG-13 for some thematic elements including a nude image and brief violent content. The film could have easily been PG if it weren't for Jane examining a nude painting in great detail. There is a brief glimpse of it when Mrs. Fairfax is showing Jane to her room upon her arrival at Thornfield, but a later scene shows Jane going up to the picture as the camera slowly pans across it. A highly unnecessary scene, but there are worse scenes in period dramas. There is also some violence: Jane is hit by her cousin at Gateshead, the girls at Lowood school are physically punished, and there is blood in one scene at Thornfield (those who've read the book know why). There was also a scene where Mr. Rochester was in a state of undress (Jane looks away and nothing is shown).

Jane Eyre is available on DVD and Blu-Ray. It is rated PG-13 and has a runtime of 120 minutes.


  1. Great review! I haven't read the book, but I have seen 2, or maybe 3 other versions, and I felt that the story was rushed in this movie. I really should read the book, but "Jane Eyre" has never been one of my favorite stories. I've always thought that maybe if I could convince myself to read the book I would like Mr. Rochester better, so it's nice to know from a fellow period-drama-lover that he is your least favorite hero, in spite of reading the book! Maybe I'll get around to reading it someday.

    1. The book is very long (my copy was around 500 pages). I read it for my high school freshman year English class for summer reading and hated reading it, but once we discussed it in class, I soften up to the story where I could like it. But I never did like Mr. Rochester, book or movie version. I know a lot of people do, but the way he lied to Jane and almost ruined her socially makes me dislike him so much. But that's just me. :-)

  2. My biggest criticism is that the last half hour feels rushed. If I had to guess, I’d say that a lot has been excised from the novel in order to push through the climax quickly.


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