Have you seen the new Jane Eyre movie? This latest edition marks the whopping 27th time this classic story has been captured on film. Although Jane Eyre ranks as one of my favorite all-time stories, I am a little befuddled as to why it warrants a new major motion picture treatment every five years or so.
Perhaps because no one has gotten it quite right yet? A number of the adaptations feel depressingly alike. The 1996 version starring William Hurt brought nothing new to the table. Ditto the 1970 George C. Scott or the 1943 Orson Welles. For my money, my favorite Rochester was in the 1983 BBC mini-series with Timothy Dalton. He was criticized for being too good-looking and for overacting, but oh my….. I thought he was wonderful. Despite my adolescent infatuation with Timothy Dalton, this version was spoiled for me by the actress who played Jane. Yes, Chalotte Bronte describes Jane as having a wounded, quietly watchful demeanor, but this actress was so bland she seemed to be either bored or sleep-walking. It was incomprehensible how she could have brought Mr. Rochester to his knees.
For my money, the best Jane I have seen is Samantha Morton’s 1997 portrayal in the A&E miniseries. She was physically plain and mousy as Jane is supposed to be….but with a quirky liveliness that makes her unique and helps the chemistry between Jane and Rochester spark. Morton’s version of Jane displayed character, kindness, and compassion. I believe she really made that version sing.
My overall favorite so far? I confess a guilty fondness for the 2006 BBC miniseries starring Toby Stephens and Ruth Wilson (pictured below) This version has been rightly castigated for not being true to the book, but I admire the producers for trying to bring something new to the table. In short, this is the “hot” Jane Eyre. The characters smolder. They yearn. They lust. Physically, they don’t stray outside of what Charlotte Bronte wrote in the book, but the foundation of their relationship is nourished by a healthy dose of lust, which is not an unrealistic reaction for two healthy adults stranded in a remote country estate. While many of the other Jane Eyre adaptations have the staid, proper feeling of a 19th century novel, this version is a steamy twentieth century adaptation, and I confess to being quite fond of it.
I have not yet seen the newest version, and probably won’t until it comes out on DVD. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the latest version, or any commentary on the earlier ones.