Jane Eyre - review of the mini series

by Wardog

Wardog commits a small heresy.
When I was fourteen I though Jane Eyre was the most romantic book in the world ever. Now that I'm old enough to have had my fair share of angst-ridden, passive-aggressive, self-indulgent, manipulative sexy dickheads I've changed my mind. I still love the book but I'm hard-pressed to find it romantic. These days, and perhaps popular and critical opinion will disagree with me, I think of Jane Eyre, not as a triumph of love but as a triumph of Jane. It's the story of a young woman who rises from abuse and obscurity to get everything she wants from life, and she never compromises her integrity, her morality or her sense of self. I think she's brilliant. It's a shame that one of the things she seems to want is an angst-ridden, passive-aggressive, self-indulgent, manipulative sexy dickhead of her very own but because she's set her heart on him I'm glad she gets him. I know Rochester is meant to have found redemption (or symbolic castration, if you prefer) by the end of the novel and, therefore, deserves to have Jane be his sex-nurse for the rest of his tragically limited life but, given the fact that he's spent most of the novel attempting to drag her down with him into immorality, although I find her choice understandable, the fact that she is better than him in every conceivable way strips any sense of romance from their eventual union.

Where the latest BBC mini-series of Jane Eyre excels for this embittered reviewer at least is that it reminded me why I once found it romantic. The leads are both excellent: Ruth Wilson's steady, courageous, passionate and staunchly un-neurotic Jane is utterly perfect and although Toby Stephens was not how I would have envisioned Rochester (perhaps I'm getting old but he looks about twelve) he nevertheless manages to encompass many of Rochester's contradictions - machismo, imperiousness and just the right amount of vulnerability and make them charming. There also seems to a genuine chemistry between them, which is quite delightful to watch. The much-vaunted sexual element that simmers beneath the surface of Jane and Rochester's relationship is very much to the fore, and surprisingly well done. Furthermore, the constraints of the format seem to serve the series well the limited time available means the focus is mainly upon Jane and Rochester. Consequently most of the sections not at Thornfield feel incredibly rushed but, given the tedium of those sections of the book, I could not find it in me to lament, and it does mean that the Jane/Rochester relationship maintains its intensity throughout.

The series also makes several intelligent choices: the patently ludicrous scene in which Rochester dresses up a gypsy has been modified to allow him to retain some modicum of dignity and his backplot benefits from several vivid and impressionistic flashbacks (although less so from the violin solo that occasionally accompanies his fits of angst). The minor roles are generally well cast: the exquisitely feral Mrs Rochester (Claudia Coulter) made a nice change from the usual deformed monster, Tara Fitzgerald is almost unrecognisably horrid as Mrs Reed and Cosima Littlewood is excellent as Adele. The production also offers some quite interesting interpretations of the characters: Adele is far more obviously and shockingly a French courtesan's daughter than the book can allow, but Rochester's relationship with her is equally complicated. It is clear that he is as much responsible for what she has become as the circumstances of her birth, and Jane chides him for his treatment of Adele. Similarly, the production emphasises Rochester's education, making him something of an amateur naturalist, his greater knowledge of the world obtained by his extensive travel contrasting beautifully with Jane's innocence.

If I was more of a purist I could probably find much to fault in this adaptation but I thought it contained much of the spirit of the book the scene in which Jane declares herself Rochester's equal is absolutely wonderful. The production values are high and the whole piece has a gloriously gothic feel: misty roads, the rugged towers of Thornfield, long corridors lit only by flickering candlelight, Jane sober and self-contained in her dull gowns against the harsh colours of Rochester's aristocratic world. Because such a large quantity of material was reduced or cut, the emphasis is very much concentrated on Jane and Rochester, unlike the book which keeps its focus narrowly upon Jane and her inner life. Perhaps it therefore isn't quite the same story but, since in this version of events, I could genuinely believe Jane and Rochester were perfectly suited and absolutely meant to be together, I almost preferred it

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Comments (go to latest)
http://mary-j-59.livejournal.com/ at 17:05 on 2010-11-11
Yay, Kyra! This is absolutely my favorite version of "Jane Eyre" on film, too, and part of the reason is that I found it truer to the books than many of the other movies. We get to see Jane's courage, integrity and talent in full; the St. John plot and her experiences as a teacher aren't left out, and Rochester's fate is the one he suffers in the book. I also really liked the way Adele was presented, and the way Jane spoke up for her. But I also agree that, where it deviated from the book, the mini-series was an improvement. Book!Rochester is borderline abusive, if not actually so, and he definitely isn't worthy of Jane. Mini-series!Rochester is a more believable and likeable human being, and that's all to the good.

I still absolutely love "Jane Eyre", the book, because Jane is such a wonderful heroine. But it was really nice that, in the TV series, she got a Rochester who was almost worthy of her. I don't think they will ever top this filming, though the movie looks interesting.
Wardog at 11:36 on 2010-11-12
I think what I liked about the dude playing Rochester was that he was *genuinely* surprising. I mean there's a typical Rochester type, isn't there? Creased brow, side-burns ... that kind of look. I mean he was probably too conventionally handsome but I liked the fact he had a disarming smile and wasn't like Edward Rochester Model #2.

I'm a bit embarrassed as preferring the mini-series to the book, I know it means I lose all my cuture points. And perhaps I'm just a shallow person but I basically preferred the story it was telling... I like Jane Eyre The Book as The Triumph Of Jane but I liked Jane Eyre The Mini Series As The Triumph Of Jane And Also A Really Nice Lovestory.

Normally Adele gets pretty side-lined, I've noticed, but I liked the fact the series didn't shy away from the fact she was a vulgar courtesan's daughter (which is something in her behaviour that is implied in the book, but not explicitely stated) which emphasised the affect Jane has on her.

I'm kind of curious about this as well...
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