REVIEW: Jane Eyre

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 01 September, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 01 September, 2011, 12:00am


Starring: Mia Wasikowska, Michael Fassbender, Jamie Bell, Judi Dench
Director: Cary Koji Fukunaga
Category: IIA

Cary Koji Fukunaga's adaptation of Jane Eyre begins in the middle of the story as told in Charlotte Bront?'s novel.

The titular protagonist (Mia Wasikowska, above) is seen running across the dark, gloomy English moors, soaked to the skin by rain and shivering in a mix of fear and anguish.

After being rescued from certain death from cold and brought to safety in a near-delirious state, she can only mutter how she 'will die' and 'must hide' - and when she recovers she refuses to identify herself, opting for some respite under a new name.

While the film inevitably revolves around the budding and then flailing inter-class relationship between Jane Eyre and the Duke of Rochester, it also places the formation and consolidation of Eyre's own psyche and desires at its centre.

Fukunaga's Jane Eyre is a story about an individual's invention and reinvention of self while living under strait-laced social repression.

The opening sequence is drawn from the part in which Eyre's romance (and impending wedding) with Rochester (Michael Fassbender) has fallen apart. As Eyre recovers under the aegis of the mild-mannered St John Rivers (Jamie Bell), her past returns in ever-lengthier flashbacks - her suffering as the charge of a hateful aunt (Sally Hawkins), her equally tortured experience as a pupil at a school fashioned to render girls as 'contrite' and 'self-denying', and then her life several years later as a governess at Rochester's realm.

Throughout, Eyre's headstrong nature is made clearly visible - from her act, as a child, to knock herself unconscious so as to avoid the feeling of fear, to her sharp ripostes against the remarks Rochester makes in his patronising aristocratic tone.

While much of this is sourced from the novel itself, Fukunaga's film is innovative in its audacious representation of Jane Eyre at the age Bront? envisioned her in the book - she's portrayed as a 19-year-old here - and also giving the character back the wit, willpower and wants a young woman would have while growing up in an age where long-held traditional values on gender were slowly being put to the test by a newer generation of female thinkers and writers (among them Bront? herself).

On this, Eyre's exchanges with the elderly servant of the house, Mrs Fairfax (Judi Dench), are perhaps crucial in the former's understanding of the pitfalls of submitting to a life of fear and servitude to a man.

Such emotions are aptly revealed in Wasikowska's stunningly measured performance in the lead role, with the young Australian actress' nuanced turn revealing the ennui Eyre sometimes wallows, and the tempestuous emotions raging within her young soul as she struggles with her fate.

Fukunaga's film is an enchanting addition to the oeuvre that is at once loyal to Bront?'s vision but also adds so much more to the many past readings of the story.

Jane Eyre opens today