2011 sees two new adaptations of certainly the best-known Brontë novels: Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre and Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights. Andrea Arnold, in tackling the complex Wuthering Heights, has chosen to adapt only the first half of the novel, removing much of the dialogue, stripping away the narrative to focus on central themes. Cary Fukunaga chooses little in the way of obvious innovation, at times treating the novel with a real sense of reverence. This is not to say the film is doggedly faithful to the novel, but rather Fukunaga’s film has chosen to adapt the novel in a manner which will please fans.
Many will be familiar with Brontë’s narrative: a young girl, Jane Eyre, suffering mistreatment through her aunt and later the school she is forced to attend, becomes a governess at Thornfield Hall, the house of the unfathomable Mr Rochester. Moira Buffini‘s screenplay injects the narrative with a new vitality, choosing to open the story with Jane’s flight from Thornfield Hall after Rochester’s revelation, the narrative then reverts to a fairly linear structure.
This approach, creating a non-linear narrative, greatly aids the film’s pacing: despite being a fan of the novel myself, I often found the final section with Jane’s time with St. John Rivers slow, lacking the vivacity injected earlier on in the novel in scenes between Jane and Rochester. Thus, breaking up Jane’s time with Rivers breaks up what has previously slowed down the narrative in previous adaptations.
The cast, Michael Fassbender as Rochester and Mia Wasikowska as Jane, are quite perfect, wonderfully embodying their literary counterparts. Wasikowska in particular, being closer in age to the Jane of the novel than prior adaptations, not only fulfils fans’ expectations but arguably portrays perhaps the best characterisation of Jane there has been. Wasikowska perfectly downplays Jane’s looks, yet despite her plainness, it is all too apparent why Mr Rochester may find her attractive. Her directness and her call for excitement in her life certainly helpsmake this Jane a far more overt feminist creation than prior incarnations. Wasikowska’s Jane, despite the lack of a first-person narration, is at all times entirely discernible to the audience: we understand her thoughts and her emotions, finding it easy to empathise with her plight.
Fukunaga’s Jane Eyre may not be revolutionary in an obvious way, but its direction, cast and chosen narrative structure creates a vital, energetic adaptation. Arguably, this Jane Eyre will now be the adaptation others are compared to; a beautiful film.