Jane Eyre – 1996 Movie Review

This weekend I started my one month free trial of Netflix – just so I could watch a movie adaptation of Jane Eyre.

There were two to choose from, although I know there are quite a few more: The 1986 TV mini-series starring Timothy Dalton as Rochester and Zelah Clarke as Jane, and the 1996 movie starring William Hurt as Rochester and Charlotte Gainsbourg as Jane. I watched the 1996 version.

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I have to say I was really disappointed with it, on the whole. Most of the problems I have with the movie are the changes they made that I thought were needless. I guess to me, if you’re going to be spending so much time and so much money, and presumably so much passion, then you’d want it to be as close as possible to that which you love. I’m not sure I understand the purpose of most of them: it seems to me there could have been a way to present everything faithfully to the book (excluding little) and still keep it down to a reasonable length. Perhaps I’ll write a screenplay of it one day, for fun. If it’s good, I’ll mail it anonymously to every production studio in Hollywood :-)

The beginning was really good actually, with Anna Paquin playing a young Jane. They started botching the actual story when Jane goes to Lowood School. It wasn’t terrible, and honestly I don’t think the details matter very much at this point in the story – all we really need to know is that Jane was treated unfairly by almost everyone she ever encountered, and yet she found two friends at Lowood that gave her hope. The movie at least accomplished that.

Then we move on to Jane leaving Lowood school, although for different reasons than in the book. Miss Temple stays, and Jane is made to want to leave of her own accord (which I guess technically she does, although there is a serious catalyst for the event). I don’t think it would have been hard to cover everything that happened there with a bit of narration. I think the movie would actually be better for the narration, as Jane is telling the story as a 30 year old wife and mother who lived through the events. They could have shown Mr. Brocklehurst’s severity and his ‘fall’ from absolute power and the yellow fever and Helen’s sickness all within the same amount of space in the movie if they’d just tweaked the dialogue. The English language is vast – by just changing a few simple words you allude to events that you don’t need to show on film, and I think it would even seem more natural.

Most of what I love about this novel is the dialogue. Every word Charlotte included is there for a reason, why would you throw most of it away? If you must add more to embellish or explain, so be it, but use what’s there – it’s beautiful! I do think the way they worked in Jane and Rochester’s opening meetings in worked well in the movie, and did lay a basis for the rest of their relationship (why did they extend Jane’s stay at Lowood from 8 to 10 years? Because they wanted her to be a bit older than 18 to make it less ‘scandalous’? They don’t even give Rochester an age, so it seemed needless) – there just didn’t seem to be much of a relationship. Once he proposes, that’s it. I mean, basically the next thing you know she’s at the alter and you find Rochester is married – which just makes him an asshole. They don’t show anything about his depth of character, or how splendid their love is beforehand. If they don’t show their genuine love, why would the audience think Jane returns to him? They can’t assume the audience already knows the story…they completely changed it! It was just a confusing muddle of events to me.

And then when Jane leaves she doesn’t discover a family, and isn’t really even faced with another type of love. We don’t even know anything about St. John in the movie – why would Jane turn him down? He’s not married – he didn’t lie to her – he’s more handsome, and she’s rich now…what’s Jane’s problem? The whole second half was very poorly written. I really liked the actors playing the leading roles, my blame rests on the script/writers. It makes me wonder what their objective was with the story.

I can’t wait to watch more adaptations of this book – I’d like to see the one that’s closest to the novel…anyone have any suggestions? Has anyone seen the 2011 version…what did you think?

•Emma

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One thought on “Jane Eyre – 1996 Movie Review

  1. Pingback: Jane Eyre – 1983 BBC Mini-Series Review | emmabookblogger

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