Originally published: June 24, 2014
I am not talking to you now through the medium of custom, conventionalities, nor even of mortal flesh: it is my spirit that addresses your spirit; just as if both had passed through the grave, and we stood at God’s feet, equal–as we are!“ – Jane Eyre
Doesn’t that just give you chills?!
With a strong, female lead, complex themes involving proto-feminism, wealth, love, passion, propriety, hedonism, and purity, the gothic, 19th century romantic novel, Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte,is my favorite work of fiction.
It is so layered and beautifully complex, and as a lover of both books and movies, it is only natural that I have looked for a good adaption. But, I must say folks. It is painstakingly difficult to adapt this book! And, there are so many! The most popular are probably 5 non-silent films from 1934-2011, 2 mini series from 1983 and the other in 2006, and a direct-to-tv movie from 1997.
In this blog post, I am going to simplify your Jane Eyre viewing experience. I will rate these adaptions in these areas:
capturing the spirit of the novel
the cast in general
the chemistry between the leads
Lastly there will be best proposal scene, best/worst Jane and worst Rochester awards. Jane Eyre fans, are you ready?! Let’s go!
1. Jane Eyre (1934) – Starring Colin Clive and Virginia Bruce
Now, this was the first talkie Jane Eyre adaption! I have not seen this version (the only one of the ones I have mentioned) so I cannot rate it. Please go and see this for yourself and report back. I am not too interested in seeing this version because I have read that it has omitted several key parts from the book, and generally isn’t that great. Judging from this picture, the movie was all wrong.
I don’t know what the standard of beauty was in 1934, but a major point in Jane Eyre is that Jane is PLAIN. This woman is beautiful! #confused #no. ONWARD.
2. Jane Eyre (1943) – Starring: Orson Welles and Joan Fontaine
Running time: 1 hour and 36 minutes.
This is a QUICK movie. Definitely the SparkNotes version of Jane Eyre, but I enjoyed it. It was adapted in part by Aldous Huxley (author of that book you read in high school) and based on a radio series of Jane Eyre. Great if you want to watch in a hurry.
On capturing the spirit of the novel : 4 out of 5 stars! This is a black and white motion picture, and I think that medium really captures the brooding, dark nature of the novel! My biggest issue with the movie was that there wasn’t more of it.
Accuracy: 3 out of 5 stars. They cut out when Jane goes to see her Aunt Reed again, and also the giant St. John Rivers subplot for time. If they included those parts, this may have been my favorite adaption. They kind of compounded the St. John character into a new doctor character at the Lowood School called Dr. Rivers, but he isn’t really a romantic interest for Jane. Key, passages from the book are retained in some of the dialog although the American accents kind of threw me off.
the Jane:4 out of 5 stars. I really like Joan Fontaine. She was a bit elegant for the role, but she captured both of Jane’s steeliness and also kindness.
the Rochester: 5 out of 5 stars. ORSON WELLES was bomb. Perfect! Possibly my favorite Rochester. Strangely (not classically) handsome and it grows on you. Thundering, deep, voice, brooding and a bit scary. Fabuloso.
the Cast: 5 out of 5. Brocklehurst was so delightfully wicked and ELIZABETH TAYLOR starred as Jane’s childhood friend, Helen. That woman was beautiful from the start.
the Chemistry: 5 out of 5. Look at this picture. The end.
OVERALL: 4.3 out of 5 (very good!)
3. Jane Eyre Miniseries (1983) – Starring Timothy Dalton and Zelah Clarke
Running time: nearly 4 hours.
Yes, James Bond was once Edward Rochester! With 30 min episodes, you can find this on Netflix or on YouTube. Great if you want the most complete version.
On capturing the spirit of the novel : 3 out of 5 stars! It’s in 80s color which is bit less charming. TImothy Dalton is WAY too good looking to play Rochester but he acts well.
Accuracy: 5 out of 5 stars. This version is super thorough because they have the time to do it.
the Jane: 4 out of 5 stars. Zelah Clarke is a bit boring next to Timothy Dalton to be honest with you, but at least she looks the part. She acts well!
the Rochester: 4.5 out of 5 stars. Timothy Dalton kind of steels the show with this one.
the Cast: 3 out of 5. A bit forgettable.
the Chemistry: 4out of 5. It’s pretty good. Their height difference is a bit distracting, tho!
OVERALL: 4.08 out of 5 (good!)
4. Jane Eyre (1996) – Starring Charlotte Gainsbourg (whoo woman first billed) and William Hurt
Running time: nearly 2 hours.
Really beautiful looking movie! But overall, a bit meh.
On capturing the spirit of the novel : 4 out of 5 stars! Franco Zeferelli does a lot of the artistic design for Metropolitan Operas so he has quiet the eye for detail I think.
Accuracy: 3 out of 5 stars. This version condenses and eliminates major parts of the novel. It is generally accurate, though. It spends a lot of time in her childhood.
the Jane: 2.5 out of 5 stars. This Jane almost seems angry. A little too severe for me. I do like how she seems about the right age.
the Rochester: 4 out of 5 stars. Hurt is of the right age to play Rochester and definitely looks the most Rochester-esque in my opinion!
the Cast: 4out of 5. Good supporting cast. Anna Paquin was a great young Jane and her time in Lowood was well done.
the Chemistry: 3out of 5. Not too hot, but it works for them. Lacking a bit of passion.
OVERALL: 3.4 out of 5 (okay!)
5. Jane Eyre (1997) Made for TV – Starring Samantha Horton and Ciaran Hinds
Running time: 1 hour and 48 minutes
Least favorite! Too much time spent in Jane’s head. The language is a bit too modern.
On capturing the spirit of the novel : 3 out of 5 stars! Costumes and etc are on point, but the language and the removal of key lines from book are a bit confusing to me.
Accuracy: 3 out of 5 stars. Two major subplots are removed. Good job to them for making St. John good looking like in the book, but his characterization was all wrong. He was too amiable and not severe enough. So many important details were left out of this version.
the Jane: 2 out of 5 stars. Least favorite Jane. She is too mopey and feels a bit too sorry for herself. The thing about Jane is that she endures so much but does not give into self pity!!
the Rochester: 3 out of 5 stars. I like Hinds in general but that uggo mustache was not a good idea. He generally looked the part. He was a bit manic (which I suppose is like Rochester) but in bizzarre ways. He was also too nice to Adele (Rochester’s love child). I liked how Rochester sang in this version.
the Cast: 4out of 5. Good supporting cast! I loved Mrs. Fairfax played by Gemma Jones (she also plays Bridget Jones’ mother!) and Blanche Ingram was very good too!
the Chemistry: 3out of 5. Their proposal scene is a nightmare…don’t watch while eating or just after eating.
OVERALL: 3 out of 5 (basic) We have A&E to thank for this mess.
6. Jane Eyre (2006) Miniseries – Starring Ruth Wilson and Toby Stephens
Running time: 4 hours.
A definite step up from the last few! BBC knows what’s up.
On capturing the spirit of the novel : 4.5 out of 5 stars! Beautifully shot and more thorough.
Accuracy: 4 out of 5 stars. Pretty accurate but with definite bouts of artistic license. Some people like this, but if are a purist when it comes to adaptions, that may not be for you. For example: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6z6CAvY4_pA
the Jane: 5 out of 5 stars. Ruth Wilson is an excellent Jane! Pretty much how I imagined her. She actually makes you a bit teary!
the Rochester: 5 out of 5 stars. Evenly matched with Ruth Wilson, Toby Stephens is very charming although possibly too handsome to play the role.
the Cast: 4out of 5. I particularly liked (SPOILER) Rochester’s wife and the flashbacks. Adele was also pretty good!
the Chemistry: 5 out of 5. Some of the best chemistry out of the adaptions!
OVERALL: 4.6 out of 5 (very, very good!)
7. Jane Eyre (2011) – Starring Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender
Running time: 2 hours.
Probably best feature film although I enjoyed the 1943 version better.
On capturing the spirit of the novel : 3 out of 5 stars! Really beautiful film, although the end erks me a lot. SPOILER ALERT but Rochester is blind but regains his sight in the end! That is left out maybe to make it seem like some kind of tragic romance?
Accuracy: 4 out of 5 stars. Includes most important things while omitting others. It is hard to fit it all in 2 hour movie, which is understandable. I also was not a fan of having the movie kind of start at the end and then have flashbacks, but that’s a personal thing. I think Bronte wrote it linearly for a reason. This adaption is for those who have definitely read the book backwards and forwards and those who just wanted to see Michael Fassbender.
the Jane: 4 out of 5 stars. Mia really held her own again Fassbender (whom can really do anything). She is also the right age to play Jane.
the Rochester: 4 out of 5 stars. Fassbender is DEFINITELY too good looking and too charming to be Rochester, but he is so natural at playing brooding people that can’t be ignored. When I saw this in the theaters, there was a scene when he tells Jane to stay put and not go to her room or else he will come fetch he, and an old lady behind me said, “He can come fetch me any day!” Need I say more?
the Cast: 3out of 5. They are a little forgettable even with Judy Dench as Mrs. Fairfax.
the Chemistry: 5 out of 5. It’s actually gorgeous.
OVERALL: 3.8 out of 5 (pretty good!)
I would definitely recommend: 1943, 1983, and 2006 versions. I would tentatively recommend 2011 version. I would say that die-hards should watch 1996 version and say that all should avoid the 1997 version like the Plague!!
PROPOSALS RANKED (in order of awesomeness)
1. 2006 (comprehensive, romantic, and beautiful): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dRPszu5loaA
2. 1983 (because it’s done properly): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lyTpzvElJck
3. 2011 (FASSBENDER. A bit too short, tho): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ard8hElhUY4
4. 1943 (nice and eerie): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0PI8GcRW79s
5. 1996 (meh): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=47eTkbpfe68
6. 1997 (they kiss like alien sea monters): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_lHKxDq33_g
Best proposal: 2006/ Worst proposal: 1997
Best Rochester: Orson Welles 1944/ Worst Rochester: Ciaran Hinds
Best Jane: Ruth Wilson (close runner-up: Mia Wasikowska)/ Worst Jane: Samantha Horton
I’m still waiting for an adaption to have it all, but this has been fun! Watching them all has really enhanced my appreciation for my favorite book! What do you think? I encourage fans to watch the adaptions and decide for themselves! What is your favorite book? Has it been adapted? Go and make a comparative study of your own.
If any film makers read this post, please remember to be thorough, avoid stream of consciousness (major blunder in 1997 version) and cast Benedict Cumberbatch as the next Rochester!!
Thanks for reading! 🙂