The newest DVD release of Jane Eyre inevitably caught my curiosity. With the diligent effort and leanings towards realism endeavored in movies such as the latest Pride & Prejudice and The Duchess, I had the feeling I would approve of this latest round of classical reworking. And, for myself, I was right.
The movie does a good job of capturing the essence of Jane Eyre’s desperate state of affairs, and the director seems to have pushed hard to portray Mia Wasikowska as the nimble yet accepting girl stuck in this lowly position of life. In addition, and in contrast to the PBS version, the vivid and luscious cinematography adds to the character of Edward Fairfax Rochester as he works to bring the delicate young woman into his life. At first, the temptation to compare the details of the book with the movie ran its natural course, but the movie is calm and serene enough that such a task was unnecessary. The details were all there, and I was appalled by the treatment towards Jane as I was when I read the novel. This tranquil, even mystic atmosphere, fused with the atrocity, is what makes the film work. Nothing is really rushed and everything is where it needs to be, as told as it is with the flashbacks and out of sequence editing. Screenplays work differently than novels for a reason, and here the reason is clear.
Rochester in this version is nearly the same as in the PBS version, yet the filming approach, with the calm, unhurried technique, gives quite a more introspective feeling to his character. He is troubled, and the audience senses this. He is a decent man fused with his masculinity, yet he is consciously aware of the traits required to win the affection of a woman. Such a character, invariably, could only arise from the mind of Charlotte Brontë as Victorian men are renowned for their adulterous ways. Maybe the novelist was on to something, as Rochester seems to be taking advantage of his governess, a woman technically fresh out of high school, but he is noble, rich (and studly) enough to earn the right, and, of course, Jane approves: the situation is essentially a nightmare replaced by a dream come true–standard fairy tale magic. But all this is much already known through the ages since the novel’s publishing. The fact of the movie is, the introspective approach utilized with high film quality produces a sincere situation that is engaging, probably most importantly for the women viewers. As for the gothic undertones, they are somewhat left behind for concentration on Jane’s needs, but this is still, nevertheless, a gothic film that dishes out enough mystery to keep new viewers of Jane Eyre intrigued.
Another aspect of the film that immediately tempts the urge to criticize is the presence of Judi Dench as Rochester’s lead servant in charge. Exactly how many film classics has she been asked to star in? But…this is precisely the reason why she gets the roles.
The urge to shoot down the film because of this detail quickly dissipates when Dench’s power as an actor shines through. She does more than simply play the part: she is the lead servant, plain and simple. This realism on her behalf must come from the experience she has gained playing in so many historical roles. She understands the concept of class structure. When she is asked to play the arrogant Lady Catherine de Bourgh in P&P, she plays the part well because she knows the history of issues regarding women and social standing before the advent of women’s rights. Here, she plays the enlightened, fun-filled Mrs. Alice Fairfax perfectly because she understands the role as a true citizen of England should. She realizes that she is in between the lowliest of servants, who don’t ever speak at all, and the upper class nobility, for she is not allowed to be seen in the main room when guests arrive. Judi Dench’s understanding of her history in conjunction with the mass of experience she has portraying such histories gives exception to her continual presence in classic films: truthfully speaking, she seems to belong in them.
The view of these lowliest of servants is ever prevalent amid these films of English history, yet they are rarely recognized. Here is one of the servants when the effort has been taken to point her out, and of course, she is not saying anything, only simply gazing as the ward of Rochester absorbs the attention:
Though much different than the type of servants who have to wear the clothing appointed to them by their masters, clothing known as “livery,” she is still very much a background character that is, nevertheless, there. She is not an extra, as in a modern day backdrop extra, she is a person who, as the nature of her times dictate, is not allowed to speak, period. Who would want a servant if it meant treating them as though they were only half of a human being? Such was the common case during the age.
Young Adèle, however, is a curious exception, but only to a certain extent. The girl might be Rochester’s child, she might not. She is treated according to the rites of a child of standing, though the man finds her petulant, as though she’s probably a beggar’s child. She is taught by a personal teacher called a governess, who here is Jane Eyre, and she knows how to sing and dance in the style of French antiquity. Such training of a girl of nobility is an 18th Century statement, and seeing her amid the servant, the governess Jane Eyre and the servant Mrs. Fairfax, this appears as a strange clash of social stratification summed up in one scene. Adèle is lucky to be born under the questionable situation, but she could have easily been worse off than any of the other women present.
At any rate, Jane Eyre’s humility throughout the film is a thing to behold and could go far to teach many of today’s modern day children and teens. She’s beat down and she keeps fighting, but she is uncomplaining and reserved about the matter, and that makes for more than good entertainment, it makes for a state of character that plenty of us could stand to aspire to.
On a completely different take, what does a modern day author do when their book is made into a movie? I suppose that would depend on the author and the style of the book. When watching the movie rendition of Sandra Brown’s Smoke Screen, I realized why classics are so meticulously made: they’re from another world so unlike the modern day world. Contemporary movies made from what I call “airport books” are interesting, but they’re also kind of dull.
Insert a Los Angeles blonde from the beach with a tawdry script about gay rights, and you have a modern day movie for Lifetime television. The plot moves along well enough, but does anyone really care about the characters? At any rate, hip hip hooray for the advent of movies in the life of a serial novelist, and herald the advent for author cameos casually written into the script. Even the guy in the forefront of this picture seems to be, like: “Huh? Is that you, Sandra Brown? Uh, yeah, we’re going to do great out there.”