by Allan Fish
(UK 2006 232m) DVD1/2
Viewer, I married him…
p Diederick Santer d Susanna White w Sandy Welch novel Charlotte Brontë ph Mike Eley ed Jason Krasucki m Robert Lane art Grenville Horner cos John Bright, Andrea Galer
Ruth Wilson (Jane Eyre), Toby Stephens (Edward Rochester), Lorraine Ashbourne (Mrs Fairfax), Pam Ferris (Grace Poole), Tara Fitzgerald (Mrs Reed), Francesca Annis (Lady Ingram), Christina Cole (Blanche Ingram), Andrew Buchan (St John Rivers), Richard McCabe (Mr Brocklehurst), Georgie Henley (young Jane Eyre), Ned Irish (George), Cosima Littlewood (Adele), Elsa Mollien (Sophie), Rebekah Staton (Bessie), Daniel Pirrie (Richard Mason), Charlotte West-Oram (Mrs Dent), Hester Odgers (Helen Burns), Georgia King (Rosamund Oliver), Anne Reid (gypsy woman),
At the time of first viewing this small screen adaptation of Charlotte Brontë’s romance, it was my sixth Jane Eyre. There were disposable ones, for film in 1996 (with Charlotte Gainsbourg if anything too pallid), for TV the same year (so mediocre even Sam Morton couldn’t do anything with it), and way back in 1934, with hardly any budget, a poor Jane from Virginia Bruce and a bored Rochester from Colin Clive. Then there had been the George C.Scott version in 1970, in which his Rochester dominated all (Susannah York was Jane, in case you forgot) and another TV take in 1983, with future Bond Timothy Dalton as Rochester. Essentially, screen history would not be one jot the poorer without the lot of them.
There are three Janes I would endeavour to preserve, however. First there was the legendary Hollywood version of 1943, with Joan Fontaine illustrating how much Rebecca owed to Brontë’s original and Orson Welles prowling around like a bear with a thorn in its foot. It was atmospheric, but it missed out so much of the book, and now seems best remembered for Bernard Herrmann’s suitably melodramatic score and Henry Daniell’s peerless Brocklehurst. Then there was the version released just this year, with Judi Dench overseeing the fateful romance of Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender. It had a lot going for it; gorgeous photography, dominated by menacing clouds and forbidding landscapes. Miss Wasikowska was excellent beyond her years (confirming the talent showed in Defiance and TV’s In Treatment), but the romance was a damp squib and the ending cut short as if the makers were ushered out of the studio because it was on fire, the creation of art imitating art. Thornfield re-razed to the ground.
In the end, though, the feeling was of dissatisfaction, and one wondered why the BBC part funded it when they had already made a superb version for TV and only a few years previously. Both versions were shot in Derbyshire’s Peak District, not in the actual Yorkshire moors, but while in the film it felt like the Peaks, in the TV series it felt more authentic, partly because it didn’t wait for dramatic skies, it just shot it as it was. Michael Fassbender may be one of the finest actors of his generation, but his Rochester pales beside that of Toby Stephens, while Ruth Wilson – criminally reduced to nonsense like Luther since – is heart-wrenching as Jane. The four hour – in as many episodes – running time allows the story to breathe and the plot revolving around the Rivers siblings benefits especially. There is also a parade of memorable supports, from Pam Ferris’ Mrs Poole to Georgie Henley (Lucy from the Narnia films) as young Jane and from stern Tara Fitzgerald as Mrs Reed to Lorraine Ashbourne as Mrs Fairfax. Better still is Christina Cole as the ghastly Blanche Ingram, but it’s in the adaptation by the adept Sandy Welch (her adaptations of Our Mutual Friend and North & South both make the grade here, too) and the leads that the film rises to the top of the pile. It’s the intimate moments you should recall in Jane Eyre, not the landscapes, the moments that twisted your innards on the printed page, and they’re indeed enough to bring forth tears from the hardest heart. It’s a happy ending, but one earned by its lead actors and by the discreet direction of Susanna White. Unlikely to be bettered.