An Eyre year


Please excuse me while I girl out and talk Brontë for a bit! I’ve always loved Jane Eyre and its film adaptations, and somewhere in the last year and a half managed to catch up on most of what’s out there. Obviously, most recent on the landscape is the 2006 television version with Toby Stephens and Ruth Wilson. It was certainly pretty, but I came away somewhat cold. They tried to up the Gothic mood in a way that kind of came off as kitschy, and I never really got over Stephens’ smirking turn as a cyber-suited Bond villain. How perfectly unfair of me! I did like Jane here; she’s nearly perfect, but I think the quality of adaptation turns on the Rochester in play, and he doesn’t quite do it for me.

Finally, finally, the 1944 film starring (and probably more than a little directed by) Orson Welles is available on DVD, so I’ve been able to patch up a criminally large hole in my Jane Eyre bibliography. However, it’s more of a required supplement than a primary version. There’s some fascinating cinematography; I especially love the sequence at Lowood where Helen (Elizabeth Taylor!) first meets Jane. Orson Welles is, well, Orson Welles, with all you’d expect from that fact. Joan Fontaine is just a little bit too refined as Jane.

Timothy Dalton was the Rochester of my swooning teenage years, and though I still love him, there’s a theatrical bombast there that kind of takes away from being able to be immersed in his 1983 version. Still, very nearly everything is perfect here, including Zelah Clarke, who is either freakishly short, or only in comparison to Dalton. St. John Rivers is an epic tool in this version, though, so if you’re a fan of the man with the Good Book, this will not please. I will guarantee you won’t find a better wedding scene than the one Dalton puts on in here.

Have you seen the 1972 Jane Eyre starring Sorcha Cusack and Michael Jayston? You’ve probably never even heard of it, but as far as I’m concerned, it’s the best version out there. This is finally out on disc as well, and in surprisingly fine shape (it looks much better than the 1983 set). Picked it up based on internet buzz, and immediately fell in love. Certainly I think Jayston’s the ideal Rochester: gruff, distant and yet charismatic; simultaneously witty, passionate and hurtful. You could say he’s Captain von Trapp without the entourage or the edelweiss, and there’s even a physical resemblance to be seen. I was also pleased the narrated bookends to many scenes, read straight from the book.

And Sorcha Cusack has amazing eyebrows.

Terrible versions, both from the ’90s: Franco Zeffirelli’s motion picture version with William Hurt (??) and Charlotte Gainsbourg (whose recent Jarvis Cocker-produced album, 5:55, I did enjoy), and A&E’s version with Ciaran Hinds (amazing in Persuasion, terrible here, and goddess forgive him for Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life) and Samantha Morton (generally wonderfull, but here, not so much).

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