The oft-filmed Jane Eyre has yet to get a definitive film version that can universally please devotees of Charlotte Brontë's 1847 Gothic novel, but screenwriter Moira Buffini (Tamara Drewe) and director director Cary Fukunaga (Sin Nombre) make a good attempt with their intimate 2011 version. Mia Wasikowska (Alice in Wonderland) takes on the title role of a woman in search of her self in a sexist time: a yen for independence competes with desire for a soulful romantic connection. Above all, this not-so-plain Jane wants to be seen as the equal of a man, especially if it's the brooding Mr. Rochester (Michael Fassbender).
The cleverly restructured story begins with an emotionally unmoored Jane despairingly wandering the moors of England, where she is discovered and taken in by clergyman St. John Rivers (Jamie Bell). We soon recede into Jane's past as a cruelly mistreated orphan (Amelia Clarkson) suffering first under her aunt (Sally Hawkins) and then the strictures of the "charitable" Lowood School, where God talk justifies austerity and the rod. The willful child becomes a humble adult, determined to enjoy her escape into the real world by claiming her independence, with no concern for elusive wealth or social climbing. Jane takes a position as a governess to young French girl Adèle (Romy Settbon Moore), ward to Mr. Edward Fairfax Rochester. The severe owner of isolated Thornfield Hall, Rochester doesn't take long to notice Jane's intelligence and inner fire, but ever-pesky class and the employer-employee relationship keep burgeoning feelings at arm's length.
Circumstances conspire to bring the two closer together—close enough to see that they may be soul mates—but their romance is touched by tragedy on all sides, threatened by romantic rivals and a secret that detonates at the worst possible moment. Rochester pegs Jane as the caged bird that she is, one longing to stretch her wings and fly. As the quietly talented Jane puts it to kindly housekeeper Mrs. Fairfax (Judi Dench), "I wish a woman could have action in her life, like a man." In genre terms, "action" is pretty much the antithesis of Jane Eyre; though its pulse occasionally speeds up for a bit of plot or feeling, much of it is played barely above a whisper, which contributes to a driness and low energy that make the film feel a bit more weighty than necessary. Fukunaga's film is handsomely mounted, not precious about its period recreation, but also a bit showy about its cold-warm visual dichotomy (competing cool blue filtering and blazing yellow candlelight suggest the smoldering tension beneath staid surfaces).
Buffini takes some of the edge off Brontë's Rochester, in service of less complicated modern swooniness. Fukunaga's mood-setting hints of Gothic horror never quite coalesce into anything, but the slow-boiling romance convinces thanks to Wasikowska and Fassbender's unwavering seriousness and commitment to selling the story. By the time Rochester busts out with "You are altogether a human being, Jane," the statement's counter-cultural importance and timeless romantic sentiment succeeds at making the audience forgive and forget Rochester's deep-trod missteps.
Jane Eyre comes to Blu-ray in a fine hi-def transfer that preserves a film-like appearance. This is a soft-lit film, with imagery recreated here just as it looked on screen. The picture retains plenty of detail, though low, natural light contributes to an understandable lack of sharpness in shadows. Compression artifacts are held to a strict minimum, with just a touch of aliasing discernable once or twice; much more notable are the film's well-handled textures, contributing handily to the period feel. The lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix perfectly recreates the theatrical experience, with moody music and ambience brought home for a wraparound effect; dynamics are excellent and dialogue is nothing but clear and crisp.
The main bonus feature is a feature commentary with director Cary Fukunaga. Since he's also a cinematographer, it's no big surprise that Fukunaga takes the film-school route here, with a largely technical explanation of how he achieved the visual look of the film in collaboration with dp Adriano Goldman. Of course, Fukunaga also addresses choices of adaptation and the work of the actors, but the "inside baseball" feel of the commentary may not appeal to literary enthusiasts.
Readers of the book will want to dash to the "Deleted Scenes" (16:52, HD), which fills in a fair amount of the story that was trimmed for time.
The running time for "A Look Inside Jane Eyre" (3:42, HD) reveals its worth—it's a dispensable promo.
"To Score Jane Eyre: Cary Fukunaga and Dario Marianelli Team Up" (2:14, HD) also comes with a "why bother?" run time, but at least it acknowledges the composer and his score.
Even shorter, "The Mysterious Light of Jane Eyre" (1:52, HD) takes a moment for cinematographer Adriano Goldman.
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