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Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Book and Movies of the Week... Jane Eyre

Dreamy reading an old copy of Jane Eyre.  Check out
that dapper bookmark!  Vintage Louis Vuitton ribbon
and a fabulous diamante button...  That girl makes the
coolest things!
I admit it's odd but, for some reason, if my wife reads a book, even if it's one that I'm interested in, I don't feel like I need to read it.  Just her reading and describing it to me seems almost as good.  This is a shame, because she is much better read than I am, at least in terms of the classics.  Jane Eyre is the perfect example.  She's read it, told me all about it and, therefore, I don't have to read it...  but I really should.  And, now, I probably will.

Like so many books and movies, I had exactly the wrong idea about Jane Eyre.  What I thought was about (gleaned from the first five minutes of it's 2006 appearance on Masterpiece Theatre), and what it is about, are two different things.  And, having watched both the Orson Welles and Joan Fontaine vehicle and this year's adaptation, I'm sorry I hadn't known this sooner.

Let's start with the book, which I will once again remind you that I have not actually read...  The Dreamy side of this blog tells me that it is fabulous.  She really couldn't put it down and loved it even more than the movie...  which she really, really loves.  It's not often that you can say a classic is a page-turner, but judging by the bright light that shined late into the night, the exploits of Jane and Mr. Rochester will keep you enamored into the wee hours.

The 1943 version of Jane Eyre is my favorite...  sort of.  It's the sort of film that you can sit through again and again.  At first you're captured and, over time, it's lovely to have on in the background.  Orson Welles plays the role of Edward Rochester nobly, although he is Orson Welles as Mr. Rochester rather than actually inhabiting the character himself.  Joan Fontaine is a marvelous Jane.  She is just meek enough, outwardly at least, but shows great strength when necessary.  She really becomes Jane, and her performance if very believable.  Joan Fontaine seems to me to be a rather adaptable performer, never quite associated with one role in particular.  She is equally good in Rebecca, Suspicion and Jane Eyre.  Peggy Ann Garner is perfect as the young Jane, as well.  As she often does, Agnes Moorehead plays an ideal meanie in the part of Jane's wretched aunt, who abandons her to the hands of evil Henry Daniell as Mr. Brocklehurst, headmaster of the dreadful Lowood Institution, the kind of boarding school little English children must have had nightmares about.  And, finally, there's Margaret O'Brien as Adelle, Mr. Rochester's little French charge.  Perhaps the most charming child actress of all time (sorry Shirley!), O'Brien steals every scene she's in.  In short, it's a grand film filled with top actors, and one you'll watch again and again.

And, now, on to the 2011 version...  Rather than being filled with big names, most of the players are relatively unknown, with the exception of Dame Judi Dench who has never played any part badly.  The title role of Jane Eyre is taken by Mia Wasikowska, best known for her role as Alice in the 2010 film, Alice in Wonderland.  This is Jane Eyre as she was most likely envisioned by Charlotte Bronte...  very, very plain.  But, through her personality alone, one believes that the more attractive Mr. Rochester is, truly, interested.  And, speaking of Mr. Rochester, he is played well by Michael Fassbender.  Unlike Orson Welles, Fassbender allows his character free reign rather than dominating him in any way with his own characteristics.

The 2011 version is, according to Melissa, much truer to the already quite true 1943 version.  The characters are a bit more clearly drawn and the locations seem less bleak and daunting.  Perhaps that last bit is too bad, for in the 1943 version, there seems to be a really daunting sense of danger in Rochester's echoing castle and the character of the lady in the attic seems much more frightening.

Like so many classic movies and their remakes, each can serve it's own purpose.  For entertainment, character likability and familiarity, I'd take the Orson Welles/Joan Fontaine film.  However, to feel that I am getting a closer-to-the-book adaptation, I'd have to select the newest incarnation.  Having said that, there may be a middle ground...  In 2007, Jane Eyre aired as a four-part miniseries on Masterpiece Theatre.  With more time, and the backing of the BBC, this might be a good alternative to both.

I should apologize for so many Movies of the Week...  but it seems that we've come across so many good films lately, that I'd hate not to pass on the recommendations! 

1 comment:

  1. I just popped over from Susan Branch blog after seeing your comment on her wall. Oh I must say I would like to look up that Jane Eyre movie. I cannot believe I missed seeing this one when it first came out. I may have to stop back to view your movies you recommend in the future.
    Thank you!