Charlotte Brontë’s Eng Lit classic Jane Eyre gets another cinematic outing with an American director (Cary Fukunaga) at the helm, an Australian actress (Mia Wasikowska) as the heroine and a German-Irish leading man (Michael Fassbender). All do an excellent job, bringing freshness and an outsider’s eye to a tale that’s been told over a dozen times before on big and small screens.
Fukunaga and screenwriter Moira Buffini (Tamara Drewe) cleave faithfully to the novel’s substance, while deftly using flashbacks to give the plot greater urgency. Wasikowska (star of Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland) is ideal as Brontë’s shy orphan heroine, conveying Jane’s mix of vulnerability and strength, shyness and fierce will. (And she makes a much better fist of a Yorkshire accent than Anne Hathaway managed recently in One Day.) As Rochester, brusque master of the house where Jane finds work as a governess, Michael Fassbender brings virile, brooding charisma.
Of course, the film stands or fails on whether you can believe anguished Rochester could fall for plain Jane. Fortunately, Wasikowska gives Jane such intensity and intelligence that her relationship with Rochester feels absolutely right and not, for a change, wish-fulfilment fantasy.
Filming largely with natural light, Fukunaga and his cinematographer, Adriano Goldman, also bring the story’s mid-19-century England to life in all its rain-soaked oppressiveness. And there are solid supporting performances from the likes of Judi Dench (staunch housekeeper Mrs Fairfax), Sally Hawkins (Jane’s cruel aunt) and Jamie Bell (earnest clergyman St John Rivers). But it’s Wasikowska’s Jane that is the film’s triumph.
On general release from 9th September.