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March 4, 2011 > Movie Review: Jane Eyre: A Gripping Feel-Good

Movie Review: Jane Eyre: A Gripping Feel-Good

By Mekala Raman

This tastefully updated adaptation of Jane Eyre will keep you on your toes. Set in 19th century England, the movie stays true to Charlotte Bronte's work, easily weaving Jane's grittier experiences with lighthearted romance-and throwing in a healthy dose of suspense.

In a nontraditional beginning, the adult Jane flees from Thornfield Hall, collapsing in anguish, alone in the dreary moorland of England. A kind family takes her in and she reflects on her life. An orphan, Jane has suffered cruel oppression since her aunt adopted her and then sent her to Lowood School for girls, where her only friend, Helen Burns (moving performance by Freya Parks), dies of consumption. Jane leaves the school a knowledgeable young woman and uses her skills as a governess at Thornfield Hall, Mr. Edward Rochester's abode. Unbeknownst to Jane, her pure and direct character has bewitched the brooding Mr. Rochester. Soon Jane realizes her reciprocating love, but the dark secrets of Mr. Rochester's past force her to abandon her home and her heart.

Mia Wasikowska captivates in her portrayal of Jane Eyre. "I like to do a lot of research on my characters," says Wasikowska of her pre-filming preparation. And it shows. Wasikowka's Jane is highly observant and though her childhood was riddled with "tales of woe" she chooses not to think of it as such. Instead, she maintains a healthy innocence and a fresh and blunt outlook on her surroundings-especially Mr. Rochester. The transformation from the mere observer to the girl-in-love is astonishing. The full grin that is absent in the entire first half of the film lights across Wasikowska's unrecognizably blissful face. She aptly depicts Jane's chafing against the repression women suffered at the time-from the abstract societal subordination to the very tangible repression of a corset.

In a story entirely about Jane Eyre, Michael Fassbender is more than memorable as an alluring Mr. Rochester. His combination of a deep, resonating voice, powerful presence, and good looks makes him a much more attractive Rochester than Bronte's original. Judi Dench gives a laudable performance as Mrs. Fairfax, bringing her usual zest to the motherly character.

Director Cary Fukunaga's attention to detail is apparent throughout the film. The variably grim and bright lighting corresponds with the character's moods and the seasons. All the main characters sported meticulous Irish lilts in a refreshing bout of historical accuracy. Since restricted to about an hour and a half, the movie does leave out some details and descriptions from the novel. Jane's time at Lowood is cut short to provide more time for development of her interactions at and after Thornfield. But screenwriter Moira Buffini stays true to the main points of the plot and conveys all the emotions, trials, triumphs, and even humor in her condensed version of the story. Dario Marianelli, composer for the 2005 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, scores again, perfectly capturing the alternately vibrant and gloomy English countryside in music.

Jane Eyre is not only a true representation of Charlotte Bronte's story, but is also an enjoyable feel-good movie that fans of the classic novel will appreciate. It speaks to young women today who have a thirst, like Jane, to be free and prove themselves to the world.

Jane Eyre opens March 18. It is rated PG-13.

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