Following the overwhelming success of his feature film debut Sin Nombre in 2009, Cary Fukunaga returns with a towering adaptation of Charlotte Brontë’s literary classic Jane Eyre.
For those of you shamefully unfamiliar with Jane Eyre, the plot follows Jane (Mia Wasikowska): a mousy governess who, after an unstable childhood, finds employment at Thornfield Hall. During her time there, she develops a beautiful friendship with head housemistress Mrs. Fairfax (Judi Dench) and a twisted romance with owner Mr. Rochester (Michael Fassbender).
Rather than boosting the material, Fukunaga and screenwriter Moira Buffini instead opt for a more condensed, laid-back, visceral approach, focusing on the turbulent relationship between Jane and Rochester while pushing everything else into the background. Starting two thirds of the way into Brontë’s story, when Jane escapes the mannor and is rescued by St. John Rivers (Jamie Bell) and her two sisters (Holliday Grainger and Tamzin Merchant), Buffini fills in the blanks through flashbacks of both Jane’s harsh childhood and her years at Thornfield Hall. Her interpretation has a level of intensity that was lacking in previous adaptations.
In ignoring some of the novel’s meticulous details and plot devices, Buffini’s take is refreshingly simplistic and, without abandoning the stories roots and nonconformity, transports the events into the 21st century, while never fully shedding its core period skin. The only issue with this off-kilter approach, however, is that it prohibits the audience from feeling a full connection with the characters and narrative. She never quite nails the larger than life elements of the central romance that Brontë conveyed so elegantly.
Adriano Goldman’s magnificently sweeping, pastoral cinematography and Dario Marianelli’s tenuous, bereft compositions exquisitely compliment and embellish Fukunaga’s enthralling and reverent direction. In a bold move that mostly works to the films advantage, Fukunaga enhances the gothic tones, injecting some thrills and persistant bursts of dark into the narrative, brilliantly capturing the manor’s barren landscape and its inhabiting characters’ loneliness and dependence on one another.
Wasikowska, who was plucked from relative obscurity to appear in Tim Burton’s take on Alice In Wonderland, delivers a commendably intuitive, enigmatic performance. She cautiously expresses Jane’s complicated, pondering thought process almost entirely through her facial expressions and body language. Likewise, Fassbender is spot on as Rochester: tense at first, but slowly softening to Jane – opening his cold, contained self up to her scrutiny and affection. In terms of supporting cast, Sally Hawkins, Dench and Bell all bring subdued traits to their respective characters, while offering new insights into Jane’s perplexing personality and her relationships with other people.
Overall, Jane Eyre is a staggering interpretation of Brontë’s novel, lovingly brought to the screen by Fukunaga. Fassbender and Wasikowska are simply phenomenal.