Yes, Charlotte Brontë, even dead and unable to collect royalties you still get my money. Even though I have a hate-appreciate relationship with your critical blockbuster of a novel, I still cannot resist the siren call of another adaptation when it comes creeping into theatres (or onto my telly). Thus I gave in this weekend and ventured out, armed with a trusty band of ladies, to see what this new film adaptation held in store.
To start, I must say that the cinematography, lighting, and overall mood of the film better matched the tone of the story than just about any other adaptation. Also, though he doesn’t exactly qualify as a member of the Less Than Handsome Club (understatement), Michael Fassbender made a better-than-normal Rochester. Miss Mia also portrayed Jane’s different states of vulnerability and self reliance quite well. However, the chemistry between them left something to be desired, a fault I attribute more to the structure of the film and the absence of some vital moments from the book than to either actor’s performance. Let’s face it, carrying off believable chemistry between a man of forty-ish and a woman of seventeen presents a difficult challenge. However, as proved a few years ago by Ruth Wilson and Toby Stephens, it’s entirely possible to do without being at all creeptastic.
Now for the, erm, issues. I’m going to try to steer away from the issues that relate directly to the source material (i.e. Rochester’s a douchebag), and just stick with the problems inherent in condensing and style. The concept of crafting a darker, more gothic adaptation worked well as a whole, however within the confines of a two and a half hour movie, some of the extended dark sequences in the end took up time that could (and should) have been given to some of the even darker and more important moments in the story. This, coupled with extended sequences of Jane moping around Thornfield grounds and a highly repetitive ‘escape’ sequence from the hall not only slowed the pace of the film, but took up time which could have been dedicated to more important moments… like the gypsy sequence, or the veil tearing, or Jane’s nightmares, or ALL of Grace Poole’s scenes. You know, the REALLY dark, gothic, scary and important sequences. These sequences not only showcase the best of the story’s gothic side, they develop and deepen Rochester and Jane’s relationship… so when she gets all mopey that he’s gone, you understand it better.
The flashback method worked well to a point. It helped speed along the childhood moments which, to be frank, aren’t why we watch the adaptations. We want to get right to the juicy stuff at Thornfield. Jane’s aunt and cousins are assholes; Lowood School is full of douches except for one friendly girl who dies, the end. Also, it was a nice change to see Jane start out with St. John and his sisters to see their kindness extended and give a basis for Jane’s affinity for them from pretty much the start (also, Jamie Bell, Holliday Granger, and Tamzin Merchant are all made of awesome -- I hope they continue to get more and more work). However, as the film progresses, there aren’t enough returns to the Rivers family to make their relationships with Jane strong enough to sustain her caring for them when they reach the climactic scenes. Also, um, cousins anyone? Did we just feel making that connection would get to creepy or something?
In any case, conceptually this adaptation works in bringing the darker (figurative and literal) aspects of the story out. However, too many sequences of empty moping and unnecessary eye flirting and candle lighting didn’t leave room to cover some of the most important emotional (and darkest) moments in the film, thereby not allowing for the real chemistry between Jane and Rochester to come through, thus leaving me more emotionally empty than I have been while watching other interpretations.
Sorry, Fassbender, Bell, and BabyDickens, you’re still trumped by Toby Stephens.