Other Media Review

Jane Eyre Round-Up:  A Guest Review by CarrieS

Title: Jane Eyre
Genre: Historical: European, Not a Book

Book Jane Eyre In honor of Charlotte Bronte's birthday (April 21, 1816), I present you with a Jane Eyre film and television adaptation round up.

Of course there are many adaptations I haven't listed here.  Interestingly, none of the adaptations I've seen or heard of seem very off the wall.  While Pride and Prejudice seems to adapt well to different times and places, poor Jane is firmly regulated to the Victorian Age, except in adaptations that use her story as only the loosest of inspirations.

Got your popcorn?  My apologies to Friends for blatantly ripping off their episode naming strategy, but I needed a way to keep all these straight. 

SPOILERS ABOUND as I'm assuming you've read the book already, and if you haven't you will definitely want to do that first and then read on. 




Let's start with:

The One With Michael Fassbender and Mia Wasikowska, 2011This movie is terrible!  Even when I tried to view it as just a movie, with no relationship to the novel, it was dreadful – difficult to follow, stilted, and monotonous.  Fassbender and Wasikowska are clearly charismatic actors, but everything that makes Jane and Rochester dynamic has been stripped away by the director, leaving them with nothing to do but speak in low, repressed voices and gaze at each other longingly.  I'm suspecting that reviewers that liked the movie thought of Jane Eyre as “Wuthering Heights Part II”.  Otherwise I can't see why you'd like a movie in which Jane is given nothing to say but has to spend an extremely long time wandering the moors and whimpering. 

Most damning of all:  This was the first version of Jane that Dear Husband saw (he hasn't read the book, horrors!), and after watching this movie, DH could not tell me why Jane is an important literary character, or why she is important to me, personally.  He also could not tell me why on earth Jane and Rochester would get involved with each other than the fact that there appear to only be two eligible men in all of England and she meets Rochester first.  It's fine to make changes to a book in order to make it work cinematically, but to drain all the life and meaning from this story is inexcusable.  D-



The one that is a black and white horror movie, 1943:  Here's a classic that isn't called Jane Eyre; it is, fantastically, called I Walked with a Zombie.  The deal is that back in the forties Producer Val Lewton (best known for Cat People) was told by RKO Studio executives that he could have total creative control if he would make movies for a stipulated amount of money (not very much) and use a title dreamed up by Studio Execs.  So they called him up and said, “OK, Val, your next movie will be called I Walked With a Zombie”, and he made an intensely brooding, artistic, subtle psychological thriller. 

I'm reviewing it here because he famously asked his scriptwriters to use Jane Eyre for inspiration, but it doesn't really have that much in common with Jane.  A nurse goes to the Caribbean to take care of a woman who has lapsed into a kind of ambulatory coma.  She (the nurse) falls in love with her patient's rich and brooding husband.  The strongest element this story shares with Jane Eyre is the sense of being literally and figuratively haunted by past mistakes.  Although this isn't much of a Jane Eyre adaptation it is a fascinating movie, on many different levels, and I recommend it purely on that basis. B



The one with Toby Stephens and Ruth Wilson, Masterpiece Theater, 2006Wow.  This series was moving and romantic and beautiful, and fairly faithful to the book.  This is a good example of an adaptation in which most of the changes augment the story and enhance its meaning instead of detracting from it.  I liked that every character got to have some layers – even Blanche, who demonstrates mean girl nastiness but also genuinely hurt feelings.  Stephens is much too pretty for the part of Rochester but his acting is flawless.  Even though he is clearly handsome, you believe that he thinks he is not, and he does an amazing job of combining arrogance, cruelty, tenderness, humor, and above all intense loneliness and vulnerability. 

Meanwhile Ruth Wilson is certainly not plain, but she has an unusual and fantastically expressive face.  When she smiles, it is a transformative event.  When she cries, I dare you not to cry along with her.  It doesn't hurt that Wilson and Stephens have so much chemistry that I kept expecting them to just start ripping off each other's clothes at random.  Incidentally, Wilson isn't actually a small person, but since everyone else in the film is enormously tall she seems teeny.  So that works.

DH only saw the last third of this adaptation but said even a partial viewing made it much easier to tell why Jane was so important to me and why Jane and Rochester might want to be together (although to his credit he still maintains that there must be some nicer men somewhere in England).  There are definitely some things here that didn't work, but I'm giving this one an enthusiastic:  A-



The One with Ciaran Hinds and Samantha Morton, A&E, 1997:  What in the name of all that is holy is this?  Did a producer sleep with Cuthulu and pop this out like some sort of Elder God baby?  I was all set to rate this movie an “F” but at the last minute I realize that I cannot do so honorably, because I turned the gibbering monstrosity off and fled, screaming, “My eyes!  My eyes!” about halfway through.   Poor Samantha Morton struggles gamely along in her part but Ciaran Hinds, who by all accounts is normally a terrific actor, seems to have contacted some particularly horrid form of rabies as Mr. Rochester.  He yells, he screeches, his eyes bulge, he drools over Jane's hand “So little…. so [drool] delicate“.  It's at this point that I fled the scene.  Mr. Rochester is supposed to be way too old for Jane and he's a manipulative, secretive jerk, but he isn't supposed to be a rageaholic shrieking pedophile.

Here's what I do think is good about this particular adaptation:  it really forces you to look at just how dark Jane Eyre can be.  In the book, Rochester is forty years old to Jane's eighteen (and their romance isn't a case of outdated values – even Mrs. Fairfax thinks Rochester is too old for Jane).  Jane is completely dependent on him for her livelihood, a fact which he exploits every time he orders her to talk to him.  She is good and honest and he loves this about her, and he rewards her for these virtues by playing vicious mind games with her and forcing her to be publicly humiliated by his houseguests. 

After many attempts to explain to DH why I want Jane to be with Mr. Rochester, I realized that what it boils down to is this:  I love and admire Jane and I want her to be happy.  If the book were titled “Edward Rochester” instead of “Jane Eyre” I never would have finished it, much like I could not sit through this mess of a movie.  DNF


The One with Timothy Dalton and Zelah Clarke, BBC, 1983:  I had grave doubts about being able to believe in Timothy Dalton as Mr. Rochester because he's permanently marked in my brain as several hammy and delightful science fiction/fantasy characters (James Bond, of course, but also Neville Sinclair, Prince Barin, Alexei Volkov, and the gloriously named Mr. Pricklepants).  Well, never underestimate Timothy Dalton, because as Mr. Rochester, he strikes just the right balance between subtlety and grandiosity and tenderness and crankiness.  He's a more faithful-to-the-book Rochester than Toby Stephens (Toby is my personal favorite, but he's really Rochester-lite).  I had a harder time warming up to Zelah Clarke, who is almost alarmingly quiet and timid as Jane, but I liked the contrast when she let herself be angry (“Do you doubt me?”  “ENTIRELY!”) and when she blossoms upon becoming part of a family.  Her teasing of Rochester regarding St. John was all the more deliciously wicked given just how completely subdued she was earlier. 

So, while Ruth Wilson is my favorite Jane, I can see why so many people admire Clarke's performance.  In addition to the strong performances, this adaptation benefits enormously from being very faithful to the book.  There were scenes where I actually signed in relief at being presented with a character or a speech that is usually cut (not that everything from the book is included – it's only fours hours long, after all).  Alas, the production values are absolutely horrible.  The look is painfully dated and the music is grating in the extreme.  You will never forget for a moment that this is made for TV, but it's made very well in terms of acting and very faithfully in terms of script.   B+


Last summer I did a Pride and Prejudice Round Up for Smart Bitches.  This round-up was a very different experience, because while I did not have a strong attachment to P&P prior to viewing the adaptations, Jane Eyre is one of my favorite books.  I feel very passionate about Jane so I was a tough customer with regard to adaptations.  To see people butcher it was almost unendurable but to see it properly brought to life was a lovely experience.  Here's some parting bonus points and awards:

Scariest Bertha Mason:  It's a stretch to call her Bertha Mason since her character is actually named Jessica, but the wife in I Walked With a Zombie is scary as shit even though all she ever does is walk around.

Bonus points for Attire go to:  Michael Fassbender, for wearing a nightshirt to bed in the burning bed scene.  Nice legs!

Bonus Points for Attitude go to:  Timothy Dalton, who, weirdly, seems to sleep in all his clothes including pants and vest, but who manages to make one undone button seem as sexy and revealing as complete nudity.

Best Hair:  Zelah Clarke's severe hairdo was always getting messed up.  Rochester could barely enter the room without messing up her hair.  I thought it was adorable.

Best Overall:  Although the Dalton/Clarke is the most faithful, the romantic in me is absolutely helpless before the powers of Ruth Wilson and Toby Stephens and all those multi-dimensional characters.  Seriously, Toby, call me.  Also, the director, Susanna White, deserves every award in existence.

And today's health tip:  Helen, your death scene is always very sad, but for the love of Jesus could you cover your mouth when you cough, especially when your face is one inch away from that of your BFF?  Seriously, Helen, you are grossing me out.

Comments are Closed

  1. 1

    Couldn’t agree more on both the Stephens/Wilson version (which I was fairly obsessed with for about six months and still re-watch a couple of times a year) and also the “bleah” reaction to the 2011 version.  I had plenty of quibbles with the S/W version (my God, was Rochester trying to EAT HER FACE OFF in that one scene or what?) but overall…happy sigh.  And you’re so right about Ruth Wilson.  Almost without moving a muscle she can make about six different emotions flit across Jane’s face, which is so appropriate. :)

    One more kudo for the S/W version: to the best of my knowledge it’s the only one that even begins to do full justice to the Rivers/Moor House portion of the book.  St. John is perfection.

    (If you can’t tell, it’s one of my favorite books too. :))

  2. 2
    Evamaria says:

    As it happens, I JUST re-watched the Wilson/Stephens versions last weekend, because oh wow, it’s so totally my favorite! The chemistry, the spunk, the great St. John/Rivers family dynamics…

    I was a late Jane Eyre convert (due to my irrational hatred of Wuthering Heights), only reading in when I was in Japan in 2006 where Penguin classics were pretty much the only affordable English books available. But then I fell hard – and the fact that just then Ruth Wilson managed to portray ALL the things I love about Jane just cemented it.

    I was rather excited for the 2011 movie but was severely disappointed. At least it didn’t make me angry the way the 2005 P&P movie did?

  3. 3
    Miranda says:

    Everyone hates this one (and probably rightly so), but I saw the George C Scott/Susannah York version when I was very young, and I imprinted on them like some sort of very odd duckling. I still love that version, and it’s out on DVD now! :)

    My problem with the Fassbinder Wasikowska version was that Judi Dench was Mrs. Fairfax. If Dench was on the scene, even if embroidering in the background, I watched her. Mrs. Fairfax: housekeeping badass.

  4. 4
    Cat C says:

    Don’t forget the musical! Paul Gordon adapted Jane Eyre into a musical in 1995 and while I hear it is not very dramatically effective, it is my favorite musical ever because of the music. The melodies are gorgeous, some of the most beautiful you may ever hear, especially the main theme, “Brave Enough for Love.” Jane is a low alto, Blanche a coloratura—very dramatically appropriate. And Rochester sung by James Barbour on the recording is irresistible—yes, he’s a problematic character, but you forget all of that when he sings, especially in his proposal. I highly recommend it for any Jane Eyre fan!

  5. 5
    j says:

    love this write up, but i really wish it had gone deeper than just 5. why mention that there are many other adaptations, but not talk about them in what is being termed a ‘round up’?

  6. 6
    June says:

    I agree with your grades in general, but for me the Timothy Dalton version is a sentimental favorite.

    Left out:
    George C Scott/Rebecca York version (it’s ok)

    William Hurt version (No…I…I just can’t watch it)

    Orson Welles/Joan Fontaine version (they cut out huge portions of the book, but I admit I still kind of get sucked into it even though I’m not a big Joan Fontaine fan)

  7. 7
    laj says:

    My favorite Jane Eyre is Joan Fontaine and I thought Charlotte Gainsbourg was terrific as a very plain Jane with William Hurt as Rochester.  William Hurt of course plays himself.
    Have you seen The Wide Sargasso Sea?  It’s about how Rochester is tricked into marrying Bertha.
    Elizabeth Taylor with light colored hair plays Helen in the Fontaine/Welles version.  Welles is seriously over the top as Rochester, but oh what a voice.

  8. 8
    Jessica G says:

    I disagree about the 2011 version. I’ve long been a fan of Jane Eyre, and I really enjoyed the 2011 movie. I thought the cast had excellent chemistry, and I thought Mia’s portrayal of Jane evoked that inner strength she had despite all the crap that happened to her. And it was powerful enough that my husband (who generally treats Austen or Brontë with amused scorn) came in partway through, voluntarily watched the rest with me, and was crying at the end during the reunion scene.

    But that’s just my personal opinion, lol. I can understand if it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. Just like I don’t understand why everyone seems to love the Keira Knightly “Pride and Prejudice” when I felt it was really dumbed-down and turned it off out of disgust 30 minutes in.

    (I hate Wuthering Heights, BTW)  :D

  9. 9
    AnnotatedLA says:

    What about the 1996 version wit William Hurt and Charlotte Gainsbourg?  I kind of liked this one.

  10. 10
    ppyajunebug says:

    YESSSS the Stephens/Wilson version is THE BEST.  Toby is definitely too handsome for Rochester, but not taking it to absurd levels like Michael Fassbender.  I mean, who on EARTH is going to look at him as Rochester and go “My, that man is quite ugly!”  And Ruth Wilson is just a FABULOUS actress.  She totally nails the quiet and spunky sides of Jane, and she’s got just enough of an odd beauty to be imagined as both plain and alluring.

  11. 11
    CarrieS says:

    To the many who would like me to have reviewed more versions – I feel your pain, but have pity – from the time when I decided to do this, to deadline, was about two months, in which time I watched something like 14 hours of Jane and wrote about it.  It just killed me to leave out Elizabeth Taylor dying seraphically in the version with Orson Wells but alas there are only so many hours in the day.  So I’m thinking – next year, we celebrate Charlotte’s birthday with Roundup, Part II?  I HAVE to review the musical!

  12. 12
    CarrieS says:

    Oh – my mistake – about 16 hours, because I watched parts of the Toby/Ruth one twice.  Ummmm…I REALLY liked that one.

  13. 13
    Barb in Maryland says:

    Hmm, I do agree with some of your ratings, but not all.
    I found the Toby/Ruth version that so many people love to be unwatchable.  But that’s just me, and I’m obviously in the minority.  They changed/added too much; I had a hard time with that.
    I’m a Timothy Dalton fan—love that version.  Though I do agree that the production values have not aged well!
    Haven’t seen the Fassbender version—missed it at the theater, haven’t borrowed the DVD from the library yet.  Now I’m curious…
    Like several others, I sure do wish you had included the William Hurt version (it was okay, IMO) as well as the George C Scott version (I have a soft spot for it).  And I had totally forgotten about the Orson Welles version—how is that possible?

    Anywhoo, I am a sucker for movie versions of Jane Eyre and I do thank you for your efforts.  Now to hunt up the zombie version——-

    Hmmm—my validation is ‘reason 73’  I easily have 73 reasons to love Jane Eyre.

  14. 14

    Great post! I have yet to see an actor get Rochester right, but Charlotte Gainsbourg in the Zeffirelli version IS Jane Eyre. She totally nails it.

  15. 15
    Jess says:

    Ruth/Toby is by far my favorite, but there’s something very visually appealing about Fassy/Mia (and not just Fassy’s pretty face). The locations they used were so lovely.  Which, funny enough, I saw it as a play a few years back and the set was as sparse as could be – just a few chairs and a large box that rotated, depending on the scene. It really made you focus on the story. Very cool. 

  16. 16

    I’m 100% Team Dalton/Clarke. Love that version! I can’t stop thinking about the scene where Rochester and Jane are in the middle of the marriage ceremony and Dalton’s fist trembles as he tries to hold it together.

    Also, I read the book long before I saw an adaptation, and faithful to the book means a great deal to me.

    The Fassbender remake was a major “meh”.

  17. 17
    Amanda says:

    This will probably get me egged or something, but I actually enjoyed the Fassbender/Wasikowska version (I saw the Wilson/Stephens version first, BTW). Perhaps I was blinded by my love of Michael Fassbender (which will not allow me to watch his truly atrocious performance in X-Men: First Class). But I saw it with a friend of mine who has seen both versions AND read the book, and she thought the director had done an admirable job boiling down the story to run in two hours.

    I’d like to see you do a Wuthering Heights film round up. I saw the most recent version and was so thoroughly depressed by the end of it I didn’t want to get out of my seat.

  18. 18
    CrankyBeach says:

    Hmm. Nobody mentioned the 1973 BBC miniseries starring Michael Jayston and Sorcha Cusack. That one was my favorite when I saw it on TV back in the 70s, and was supplanted by the Dalton/Clark version. Silly me, I haven’t seen the Wilson/Stephens one, and will have to immediately rectify that omission in my life……….

  19. 19
    CarrieS says:

    @Amanda – no egging allowed on this thread!  You are safe from eggs!  But I’m confused – did you allow yourself to watch X-men First Class once, and decide you didn’t like it?  Or have you never allowed yourself to watch it at all, in which case how did you come to the conclusion the Fassbender’s performance is awful?  Personally, I thought it was fantastic.  If you’ve seen it once, OK, we have different opinions, no problem.  But if you haven’t seen it, give it a try.

  20. 20
    Laylapalooza says:

    Ah, I so agree with this. The Jane Eyre version with Ciaran Hinds and Samantha Morton is one of my all-time favorite terrible movies ever, just because it’s chock-full of WTFery. Rochester’s creepy mouth, the way he says “Jane,” the stuff with the snowglobe, what a fucking crazycakes R. is for most of the film … so bad.

    On the topic of the Welles version, the thing that gets me (and it’s possible I’m misremembering this) is HOW HE’S STILL LIVING IN THE RUINS OF THORNFIELD. ‘Cause that’s how we roll.

    The musical is beautiful if you just listen to the music; however, I’ve seen recordings of the production and it’s terribad. Its short run = totally justified. Also James Barbour is a huge creeper. So there’s that.

  21. 21
    Amanda says:

    @CarrieS, I saw parts of it. What I saw was enough to make me turn it off and watch Centurian instead. I’ll probably give it a shot at sometime in the future.

  22. 22
    de Pizan says:

    @CrankyBeach, the Cusak/Jayston is one of my favorites. Jayston is one of the few Rochesters that got the humor and Rochester’s sarcastic twinkle—many of the others play him straight brooding/angry/morose.
    The Gainsbourg/Hurt is so boring, both are just depressed and mopey throughout. And the 2011 so choppy and rushed, Jane and Rochester have maybe two brief interactions before they’re declaring their undying love.
    The very worst version though goes to the 1934 Virginia Bruce/Colin Clive version, where Rochester is Adele’s uncle (no impropriety here); Jane is a tall gorgeous blonde and everyone very pointedly remarks on how beautiful she is; Blanche is rather matronly and jealous of Jane’s beauty; Adele can’t walk 5 feet without falling over or into something—she makes Bella Swan look positively graceful; the St John portion takes all of 5 minutes with Jane working at his soup kitchen(!) and she does agree to marry St John before finding out about the fire; Jane gets her inheritance before she comes to Thornfield and sasses Brocklehurst which causes her to be fired from Lowood (but with her inheritance why she has to work is a mystery); Rochester’s cheerfully waiting for his annulment to come through, yet his wife seems perfectly lucid.

  23. 23
    Avrelia says:

    Thank you for the round-up! Dalton/Clarke version belongs to my childhood and fondly remembered, but Stevens/Wilson is the one I love now.

    The more I read Jane Eyre, the more I love it, and it’s not about romance – it’s all about Jane. I think I fell hard for her, when she left Thornfield and paid all her money for the ride as far away as should, knowing full well what that means for her. Even now sometimes I start re-reading from that moment.

  24. 24
    sweetsiouxsie says:

    How sad that you missed the Joan Fontaine – Orson Welles version. When I watched it as a child, it was pretty spooky. Recently, I saw it on TCM and it was still spooky.

  25. 25
    Catherine says:

    Enjoyed your round up!

    And yep, Fassbender’s nightdress was indeed FINE and very real. Weren’t they way toooo kissy kissy by the way? I don’t remember that in the book so much!! ahem.

    Glad to see the thumbs up for Timothy Dalton….swoon! (He’s a good actor!!) And I was surprised you do not mention William Hurt’s version, who is not one of my favorite actors, but he was appropriately cryptic and strange in the film.

    thanks again

  26. 26
    icy says:

    Another Dalton fan here… he is the most impressive Rochester I’ve seen to date, though I admit I haveb’t seen the Toby Stephens one. The Fassbender one left me lukewarm, but the passion with which Dalton delivers every line…. holy molly… I was on the edge of my seat all along, even with the 80s made-for-tv feel… I just loved how faithful to the book that version was. Also, kudos for the gypsy fortuneteller scene, which Dalton totally aced!

  27. 27
    roserita says:

    I’m another one who imprinted on the George C. Scott version/Rebecca York version.  The score helped; I could still remember the main theme 25 years later (which never happens).  I found it on CD—because it’s one of John Williams’ early scores—before the movie was out on DVD, and I still love it.  Have to go find the movie now…

  28. 28
    Chris J. says:

    Love the roundup, would love to see more.

    My favorite is the Dalton/Clarke version.  Timothy Dalton’s too pretty for the role, but I liked that he was able to bring out Rochester’s humor as well as his moroseness.

    I saw the version with William Hurt in the theater with my mother.  She couldn’t figure out why anyone would be attracted to Rochester, based on that performance.  Also, the thing I remember best about that version is they made it look exactly like St. John proposed to Jane for her money after she inherited.

  29. 29
    Violet Bick says:

    I second the motion for a Charlotte Bronte/Jane Eyre Round-Up Part II next year! Would love to hear CarrieS’s take on the earlier adaptations of the novel.

    But I’m still stuck on the fact that there was a Jane Eyre musical! How did I miss that? I mean, I saw The Scarlet Pimpernel musical, and one of my favorite musicals is Titanic (yes, one can go around singing Titanic construction statistics: “Forty-six thousand tons of steel, eleven storeys high …”), so I feel I should definitely have known about the Jane Eyre musical. My library has the CD of the Broadway show so I’m definitely going to check it out!

  30. 30
    Terrie says:

    Oh, Dalton/Clarke.  I love them both.  Yeah, the production values are not what we expect from tv series today.  I don’t care.  Dalton’s Rochester positively sizzles.  The scene after the wedding where he is trying to convince her to stay with him?  Yeow!  I love Clarke, too.  I don’t find her too subdued at all.  For me she is someone who has agreed to act subdued as a matter of survival, but that fierce spirit is always shining through.  I enjoy the Stephens version because Toby Stephens!, but when I want to be completely carried away, for me it’s Dalton/Clarke all the way.

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