Jane Eyre

Directed by Franco Zeferelli
StarringWilliam Hurt, Charlotte Gainsborough, Anna Paquin, Joan Plowright, Samuel West

It all starts so well. Charlotte Bronte's well loved tale of gothic romance and melodrama has been filmed before several times. The opening scenes raise our expectations as the young Jane played by The Piano's Anna Paquin has to face the beastly Mrs Reed (the wonderful Fiona Shaw) and her bratty children. Jane's frustration at her situation, and her defiance are perfectly played by Paquin. She shows the spirit of the girl. John Wood as Reverend Brocklehurst arrives to take her away to school, and to face yet more hardship.
These scenes of Jane's early life are very well done. We feel sympathy for poor Jane's situation at Mrs Reed's and at the Lowood School, but through Paquin see the liveliness and spirit that endear the character to so many readers.
However all this changes when Jane grows up into Charlotte Gainsborough. One common problem with filmed versions of this book is that the Janes and Rochesters have been too good looking. TV's Timothy Dalton is a classic handsome example. Gainsborough is made to look plain - no complaint there, but Jane has to have determination and guts. Gainsborough is completely flat in her acting. There is no liveliness or spirit. She is a very dull and lifeless Jane.
This is a major problem. And one that only gets worse when we encounter Rochester. William Hurt has an unusual accent that he does not seem comfortable with. His Rochester is properly plain too, but is simply not compelling enough. His romantic entrance on a large horse on a dark country lane has been altered to a daylight encounter that removes the mystery and other-worldliness of it.
As a big fan of the book, the liberties taken with the plot near the end were the final straw. This is a very disappointing film with poor performances and a crude script that fails to catch the magic of the book. The locations are grim and unappealing, with Thornfield hall becoming a medieval tower!
And it all started so well. 3/10.

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