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Jane Eyre

a film by Cary Fukunaga

I suppose Cary Fukunaga's Jane Eyre is a respectable enough, if not a bit tepid adaptation of the classic Charlotte Bronte novel, with strong performances from both Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender and with a style that (pretty much) sets an appropriately gothic mood, but the question one must ask oneself is - do we really need another version of Jane Eyre? With more than a dozen theatrical versions and countless more BBC/PBS/A&E/what have you versions made for the small screen; do we really need another one? Probably not, but here it is anyway, so I suppose we should acknowledge it in some way.

To make the inevitable comparisons to previous incarnations of the story, one could place Fukunaga's version somewhere in the middle (or lower middle) of the pack. Though a million times better than the horrendously truncated hour long 1934 version with Virginia Bruce and Colin Clive (it almost seems as if the filmmakers were going for a world record for rushing through a script as fast as they could) this new adaptation falls quite short of the 1944 version starring Orson Welles and Joan Fontaine (even though Fontaine was playing the title character and had recently won the Oscar for Best Actress, Welles received top billing - most likely due to ego). Personally my favourite adaptation is Jacques Tournier's loosely based (but still officially credited) 1943 horror movie I Walked with a Zombie.

Aussie Mia Wasikowska, last seen as the titular girl-down-the-rabbit-hole in Tim Burton's audacious (and quite horrendous) Alice in Wonderland and as the surprisingly well-adjusted teen daughter-with-two-moms in The Kids Are All Right, does a passable, if not a bit mamby-pamby job as the wayward orphan-turned-tortured governess (the mamby-pambiness may be more a slight in screenwriting than in acting though). Fassbender, seen in director Steve McQueen's stunning Hunger (where the actor hands in one of the finest performances of the last decade), Andrea Arnold's Fish Tank (with a loutish aplomb nonetheless) and Tarantino's brilliantly subversive Inglourious Basterds (playing a film critic, somewhat based on Graham Greene, who fatally requests three glasses of scotch), does a more than passable - great even - job as the hard-hearted Mr. Rochester.

Otherwise though, this latest version of Bronte's novel, though passable enough, seems to just lay there, not willing to do much of anything. And again (as my lovely wife, who claims the novel as her favourite as a child, attests to and rightfully complains about) the childhood of Jane, and her life in the Lowood orphange, is all but ignored (the aforementioned 1944 version allows for the most screentime for this earlier section of the book, but even then it is quite truncated). Perhaps we do not need another version of this story (and the same can be said of many great works of classic literature that get made and remade and remade again ad nauseum) or perhaps we need one with a braver filmmaker than Fukunaga at the helm, or perhaps one that stars (no offense to the lovely miss Wasikowska, for she is a good, if not a bit miscast actress) a stronger lead actor in the role.

Charlotte Gainsbourg (a stronger and braver actor may not exist) is probably the quintessential Miss Eyre and I suppose one should not expect another Jane as powerful as she (though she starred in a lesser adaptation) but one can also well imagine someone like Saoirse Ronan taking on the character and ripping it open for all to see. Perhaps in a few years (the young Ronan is just two years away from Jane's age at the heart of the book) and in the next inevitable version of the novel, we can see such a thing. Until then, I suppose we must settle for this rather lackluster, though passable (as they say) rendition. Or maybe we just forget about it and move on. [04/22/11]

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