I was able to get in Saturday on a Focus Features' new release of Charlotte Bronte's classic gothic romance Jane Eyre directed by Cary Fukunaga (Sin Nombre). As a fan of the novel I've seen almost every adaption from the black and white classic with Joan Fontaine to the cult TV mini-series with Timothy Dalton from the 80s, to Masterpiece theater's recent adaptations in the early 2000s. Bronte's coming of age romance has been adapted so many times I was skeptical that Moira Buffini's screenplay would make much difference.
As the film opened I realized I was in for a treat. Buffini chose to rupture the original structure of the novel by introducing a book-end and opening when Jane has fled Thornfield Hall. Her amnesic state coupled with her attempts to hide her history provide the transitions to her past. As the novel is written from Jane's point of view after the events, Buffinni's adaption makes perfect sense to fans of the book. The metaphysical elements from the gothic novel are masterfully heightened in Fukunaga's adaption. The existentialist spiritual connection between Jane Eyre and Edward Rochester transcends time and space. In the film's opening Rochester's whisper of "Jane" can be heard over the moor wasteland she is lost in. Buffini's emphasis on the name "Jane Eyre" throughout the screenplay compounds the title of the film into context but also establishes a strong theme of identity.
While elements have been cut from the original narrative to make the 2-hr run-time, Fukunaga does not compromise pacing. His long takes and poignant beats allow Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender's performances to dominate the screen. Wasikowska's Jane Eyre is subdued, clear-headed and very strong beneath her demure veneer. Fassbender on the other hand plays a much more sympathetic Rochester. His machinations and actions are made plainly ovations to Jane. In the classic scene in the bedroom after Jane has saved him from a "fiery death" he quite clearly stoops in to kiss her although she backs away.
The strong cinematography of Brazilian Adriano Goldman (Sin Nombre, Conviction) does not fall into the trap of a showy period drama. He captures the beauty of the 19th century with a the liberated camera of a contemporary indie-drama. Drawing on the dark themes from the novel, Goldman accentuates shadow and light. The bright light that streams through the large windows of Thornfield Hall in contrast to the candle-lit scenes after sunset create two distinct palates reflecting the dualism of Rochester's own presentation and his troubled past. One of Goldman's original flourishes is the motif of the pull-focus at the establishing shot of flashback scenes. The effect is just subtly disruptive enough to catch the spectator's attention, but not distracting enough to take you out of the narrative.
Fukunaga's Jane Eyre is a refreshing adaption of a much beloved novel for young and old generations to appreciate.