Latest 'Jane Eyre' incarnation proves quite pleasing
Three movies open today in which young women play not the girlfriend or sister or daughter or sassy friend but the title character: "Jane Eyre," "Hanna" and "Soul Surfer."
In what can only be likened to a rare "supermoon" phenomenon that makes the moon appear bigger and brighter than usual, this cinematic convergence probably won't be repeated for years.
All of the girls have tales of woe although only Jane Eyre's dates to the 1847 publication of the Charlotte Bronte novel of the same name.
3 stars = Good
- Starring: Mia Wasikowska, Michael Fassbender.
- Rating: PG-13 for some thematic elements including a nude image and brief violent content.
It has been turned into movies for the big and small screens, with one of the most famous the 1944 version with Joan Fontaine, Orson Welles and, in a small role as a doomed school girl, Elizabeth Taylor.
Mia Wasikowska, best known as Alice in Tim Burton's "Alice in Wonderland" and the teenage daughter in "The Kids Are All Right," slips into the role of the lonely orphan who, after years of neglect and abuse, has found a measure of contentment as governess at a place called Thornfield Hall.
She is drawn to Mr. Rochester (Michael Fassbender), the brooding owner of the estate who seems out of her social and economic reach and grasp. When it appears he may share her feelings, happiness flickers and then is snuffed out in a particularly cruel way although that is not the end of the story.
"Jane Eyre" is directed by Cary Fukunaga, who also made 2009's excellent "Sin Nombre" about Central American immigrants seeking the promise of the United States. He sees some similarities in Jane's search for family, friends and a home.
Writer Moira Buffini acknowledges her screenplay is not faithful to the original structure of the book, in which the story is told chronologically, but it does include every key stage of Jane's story although it stops a few pages before the novel's end.
The movie opens with a sobbing, forlorn Jane, who knows what she's running from but not what she's running to.
She finds shelter at the home of St. John Rivers (Jamie Bell) and his sisters, and the story flashes back to her childhood at the home of a spiteful aunt, exile to the charity school Lowood and early days at Thornfield before eventually catching up to Jane in real time.
Looking here like the younger sister (or version) of Claire Danes, Ms. Wasikowska tones down her beauty although when Mr. Rochester says, "You are not pretty any more than I am handsome," you may arch your eyebrows in disagreement.
Ms. Wasikowska, who at 21 is closer to the age of Jane in the book, brings a stoicism and quietly stubborn, intellectual and independent streak to the governess. She is best, though, in the scenes when her emotional defenses are down and she unleashes years of disappointment and pain.
Mr. Fassbender, the British film critic turned spy in "Inglourious Basterds," Bobby Sands in "Hunger" and a handsome stranger who feeds a teenage girl's fury and desperate need for freedom in "Fish Tank," makes a marvelous Rochester.
Although this may change after he portrays Magneto in the origins story "X-Men: First Class," he's still a fresh face who seems entirely different in each of the above movies. He has said he played Rochester as a Byronic hero.
Judi Dench turns up as Thornfield's housekeeper, Mrs. Fairfax, while Sally Hawkins is Jane's aunt, who does her wrong in so many ways. Amelia Clarkson brings spark and spunk to young Jane.
It's slow, low key (the big reveal isn't as spine-tingling as it should be), atmospheric and the ultimate chick flick, a story about an orphan treated cruelly by fate but soldiering on as she wishes and waits for love.
In other words, it's the anti-"Your Highness."
Opens today at Manor Theater in Squirrel Hill.
First Published April 8, 2011 12:00 am