Subtle Version of Much-filmed Enduring Classic

This is my review of Jane Eyre [DVD] [2011].

Why should anyone want to make yet another film of "Jane Eyre"? It is not just that this classical page-turner lends itself to the big screen with the harsh, menacing beauty of the Yorkshire moors (particularly with a backdrop of dark bands of rain on a red horizon), the sharp-witted heroine with the inner strength to survive against the odds, and the irresistibly attractive but tortured Mr Rochester.

This version of the tale brought out aspects I had forgotten, or perhaps failed to notice as a teenage reader. There is Jane's sense of being trapped in her life, the desire to see the world beyond her limited experience. Rochester's passion for Jane is more than merely physical. He recognises in her the purity and innocence which he imagines can save him: "It is your soul I want, Jane."

The film helps you to see how remarkable the story was for its day. How did the daughter of a strict parson, brought up in such isolation, come to formulate such radical thoughts? Although Jane cannot bring herself to live with Rochester as his mistress, there is the implication that a relationship outside the convention of an unhappy marriage may be the better course. Similarly, there is the strong suggestion of the possibility of equality, regardless of class or gender.

The film does not neglect the subtle touches of say, the unexpected kindness of the housekeeper Mrs Fairfax (Judi Dench), far from the simple-minded old woman that the arrogant Rochester supposes, or of Jane capturing in her idle sketch of the clergyman St.John Rivers a sense of the uncompromising fanatic beneath his kindly exterior.

With creative writing courses as yet unheard of, how did Charlotte Bronte come to know "all the tricks of the trade" plot wise , as regards, for instance, the growing sense of menace (something nasty in the attic) and the two great twists of the revelation of Rochester's guilty secret, and the final drama which enables Jane to remain with him?

Some reviewers have felt that this latest version "lacks something" and comes across as rather "soulless and heartless". This may be to miss the point that, faithful to the book, the film respects the conventions of the nineteenth century. It is true not only to the complex, yet very expressive language of the day, but also to the habit of being dutiful and repressing strong feelings.

This film is worth seeing both as an entertaining, well-acted and beautifully filmed drama and also for the discovery or reminder of Charlotte Bronte's great talent as a writer of both "Jane Eyre" and other moving novels.

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ 5 Stars

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