A classic tale classicly done, the latest film version of Jane Eyre reminds us of the power of language, the richness of subtext and the delicate intricacies of human interaction. If words and subtlety are your thing, this is your movie.
Director Cary Fukunaga not only adapts the literature from which it comes, he makes the classic novel by Charlotte Bronte breathe with little handling and a lot of spirit. Jane Eyre is about spirit, after all, as the title character, played by Mia Wasikowska, is a young girl way ahead of her years in both heart and mind, who doesn’t back down from speaking her mind, in spite of her lowly stature and even more lowly appearance. Still, Eyre is smart, independent and confident, not always an ideal combination for young women in England in the 1800s, so cruelty and degradation are her lot, until she is able to find a job as a governess at a rural house, where she develops a unique relationship with the mysterious master, Mr. Rochester, played by Michael Fassbender. Like any good classic English novel, the story is in the subtext as Jane and Rochester’s relationship evolves with a quiet intensity reserved for movies made under the BBC banner.
Fassbender and Wasikowska are equally brilliant in their respective portrayals of fire and ice, each displaying a mastery of Bronte’s language as if it were their own. And, in the end, it’s all about the language. Just like any great Shakespeare, you find yourself mesmerized by Bronte’s language, how it ebbs and flows—eloquent, descriptive, and poetic.
Because of the restraint and intensity required to bring these words to life, it is essential to have great actors inhabit these classic characters. I found Wasikowska to be quite cold and unmoving in her previous title character role in Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland last year, but her aloofness serves her well here, as her Jane Eyre is quiet but forceful, a woman desperate to break free from the bounds of circumstance. Fassbender provides a worthy counter, all fire and force, a simmering cauldron of emotion, careful not to boil over. Fassbender is an absolutely riveting force on the screen, easily up to the task of playing one of literature’s most beloved rogues. He is an actor only now registering on Hollywood’s radar (following an indelible performance in Inglorious Basterds), and you will be seeing much more of him in the near future.
For now, however, before Fassbender becomes a bonafide movie star, enjoy him in one of the finer things in life: a well-done film adaptation of a classic novel—a pleasure in any language.