Prepare yourselves because this autumn is Bronte season. Hollywood has obviously decided to give Jane Austen a bit of a rest, so now it's the turn of her Northern bretheren with two big screen adaptations due over the next couple of months. In November we get Andrea Arnold's take on Wuthering Heights but first it's an outing for the slightly more romantic Jane Eyre.
Jane (Wasikowska) travels to Thornfield Hall to take up her role as governess to the ward of Mr Rochester (Fassbender). She falls in love with her employer but all is not as it seems.
Director Fukunaga begins his film at the pivotal scene where Jane escapes Thornfield after Mr Rochester's secret is revealed so the first five minutes or so are almost in silence as we see her running across the windswept and rugged moors (there's one bit it particular that seemed to be straight out of Joe Wright's Pride And Prejudice). The story then moves back to Jane's childhood and what has led her to flee her home. The problem I have with this is that when the big reveal comes and Jane flees, I felt the film lost some of its momentum as we'd already seen her running away. It felt a little jarring to be back where we'd started. There is also a problem with pacing, certain key events feel rushed, particularly once Jane and Rochester reveal their feelings to one another. And then it slows down again once Jane has left. And silence is a big part of this film – there are LOTS of pregnant pauses, at times I wanted them to just get on with it!
Light is a big part of the film and the way the director tells the story – nearly every scene inside uses only candle or fire-light adding to a sense of foreboding, while the outside scenes, especially the ones where we see Jane and Rochester's relationship grow, use natural light making them seem warmer. Fukunaga isn't afraid to lay on the Gothic here – dimly lit corridors, strange noises from upstairs etc - but then he wastes it with the big reveal, it's all over with too quickly (again a pacing issue).
In terms of performances, I think all the leads do well – Wasikowska's Jane is a strong woman, almost modern in her attitude to life and you feel for the character and what happens to her; some critics have said Fassbender is too good looking for Rochester, but I enjoyed his performance, he's very good at brooding! They're given decent support by Jamie Bell as Jane's saviour/admirer St John Rivers and Sally Hawkins pops up as her aunt. I do think the great Judi Dench is a strange choice as Mrs Fairfax, she's far too good for a supporting role and doesn't have enough to do.
It's a nice diversion but I have a feeling Bronte purists are going to find fault with chunks of the book missing. It is a good showcase for its two stars though, both of whom I expect to go onto bigger things.