Saturday, April 02, 2011

Focus Feature's "Jane Eyre" is a bit rushed, and looks appropriately gritty

The film of Charlotte Bronte’s  (aka Currer Bell) "Jane Eyre", from Focus and BBC (and director Cary Fukunaga), has the look and feel of a PBS “Masterpiece Theater” program.  It looks like the kind of film you would show in a high school English class along with a video worksheet (or, reading quizzes for the book).  The book, written in the first person, is considered an exploration of the tenuous balance between individualism and conventional social morality, between religion and self-righteousness.  ("Jane: Do you know where the wicked go?") There’s a lot here for English themes.

There are plenty of summaries on the web, about how Jane grows up an orphan and winds up as a governess, and finds out that her “employer”, when about to marry her, hid a terrible secret, which had resulted from his being deceived too. Then more social justice occurs at the end when she finds her true identity.

But what’s interesting about the film is a certain visual bleakness, even with the opening scene of perpendicular paths meeting in a heath along the English coast.  (Somehow the beginning reminds me of our reading Thomas Hardy’s “The Return of the Native” in senior English in high school.  It also reminds me of the English teacher who sponsored our high school chess club back in the late 1950s; he used to say he taught “an appreciation of literature”, while giving rather hard and picky content tests.)

Jane’s “lifestyle” never improves all that much. We’re always reminded of the naturalistic, hardscrabble life, even for the gentrified. We see a painting of a woman with hairy legs, not realizing it’s a female form until the camera moves up. We see Jane rescue her employer from a carelessly set fire, a foreshadowing of worse to come.   We see how mental illness was handled in pre-Victorian England with Rochester’s unfortunate first wife. We listen to the moralizing Mrs. Fairfax (Judi Dench) who will do herself and the manor in. We see that home safety was not a priority in a world where candles and kerosene provided power (but trees couldn't damage power lines during storms).

Australian Mia Wasikowska carries the lead as Jane with some modesty, Michael Fassbender is sharp-edged as Rochester, and Jamie Bell (“Billy Elliot”) is the very kindly Lord Rivers.

Focus’s official site is here

The novel had been made into a four-part TV miniseries by the BBC back in 2006. It probably lends itself better to television because of its sprawling, episodic nature; the film seems a bit rushed.

I reviewed “Source Code” this morning on my “disaster movies” blog (“billboushkacf”, check Blogger profile).

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