Thursday, March 17, 2011

Advanced Screening of Jane Eyre? YES PLEASE

From Eye Weekly ""Their tonal differences amount to a perfectly realized chemistry, rendering one of the most tragic literary love stories indelible and, though appropriately chaste, viscerally hot."

I was thrilled to attend an advanced screening of Jane Eyre last night in Toronto and I am even more thrilled to express that I genuinely respected the new adaptation.

The last Jane Eyre we have is (my personal favourite) the 4 hour BBC 2006 version with Toby Stephens and Ruth Wilson. If this is the last Jane Eyre you have seen and considering that the director mentioned that his preferred cut was 3.5 hours in length, you can do nought but acknowledge the story’s brevity.

It is framed by Jane’s arrival at St. John Rivers’ house, traces back to her childhood at Mrs. Reed’s and Lowood and progresses forward to the pivotal year at Thornfield.

We have a quiet, somewhat abrupt and languid Jane Eyre that heavily plays up on its gothic sense. Things go bump in the night, shadows dance on the actor’s faces and Thornfield is an elegant maze of strange, curtained drawing rooms and creaky nooks and paths.

This element helps make this adaptation the most accessible I have seen for those uninitiated. It is craftily filmed and draws on the same use of colour lightening last year’s stunning Bright Star.

Judi Dench plays a venerable Mrs. Fairfax and Jamie Bell does what he can with the thankless role of St. John Rivers.

Mia Wasikowska is a challenging, pure, resolute and straightforward Jane whose iron will is displayed in beautifully rendered scenes when her moral fibre is challenged.

Rochester, of course, is the make-or-break of any Jane Eyre adaptation ( from the disturbing Orson Welles through the nonchalant William Hurt to the barking Ciaran Hinds who yelled his way through his relationship with Samantha Morton to the wholly miscast Timothy Dalton). Michael Fassbender is cognizant that he is playing into the putty of the Byronic ideal and that this character has been defined, often by playing up its aggressive and violent elements, countless times before. This recognition forces him to play with his eyes. Watch his physiognomy as he livens to Jane’s quick responses and his desperation to penetrate her every thought.

The best scene in the film is the scene after the house fire when Jane and Rochester stand in his half-lit chamber. They did this remarkably well and there is a palpable tension.

The dialogue is stripped directly from the novel and the language is delicious and well executed. My main concern comes with the witling of staple plot points like Grace Poole. They evade the Gypsy scene altogether (don’t blame them. That is a tough one).

When the major conflict arises it does so powerfully and yet in a straightforward manner. Jane’s resolution following it is magnificent to behold.

Those who love their Jane drawn out, languid and lovely might be off-set by the abrupt ending and the quick advancement of Rochester and Jane’s relationship. But, this is a condensed version which certainly captures the spirit and essence of the tale in snippets: in scenery, character and feel.

I really enjoyed this interpretation and, like the best stories that you have internalized, that have coloured your psyche and informed your world view, your sense of ownership seems precariously threatened by the unraveling of it in a different medium. Fortunately, Jane Eyre hits the right notes, offers something fresh and inventive and exposes the great, mind-blowing romanticism that has kept it at the forefront of the Western Canon since 1847.

note: fellow Torontonians, Jane Eyre is playing EXCLUSIVELY at the Varsity ( where I saw it last night), so, you know how fast this theatre sells out.... buy tickets early :-)

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