Masterpiece Theatre: Jane Eyre
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After a wretched childhood, orphaned Jane Eyre yearns for new experiences. She accepts a governess position at Thornfield Hall, where she tutors a lively French girl named Adele. She soon finds herself falling in love with the brooding master of the house - the passionate Mr. Rochester. Jane gradually wins his heart, but they must overcome the dark secrets of the past before they can find happiness. When Jane saves Rochester from an eerie fire, she begins to suspect that there are many mysteries behind the walls of Thornfield Hall. Her fears are confirmed when Rochester's secret past is revealed, destroying her chance for happiness, and forcing Jane to flee Thornfield. Penniless and hungry, she finds shelter and friendship in the shape of a kind clergyman and his family. But she is soon shocked to uncover the deeply hidden truth of her own past. This lavish and sensual new version of Charlotte Brontes classic novel is modern and moody, timeless and romantic. Starring Toby Stephens as Mr. Rochester, Ruth Wilson as Jane, and Francesca Annis as Lady Ingram.
You may think the world doesn't need another adaptation of Jane Eyre--but you're wrong. This new and wonderfully lush Masterpiece Theatre version, directed by Susanna White (who directed the equally sumptuous miniseries of Bleak House starring Gillian Anderson), contrasts Jane Eyre's vivid inner life with the harshness of her outer life; both Georgie Henley (The Chronicles of Narnia) as the young Jane and newcomer Ruth Wilson express the inner vitality of the outcast orphan girl whose spirit captures the heart of the rough, charismatic landowner Mr. Rochester (Toby Stephens, Die Another Day). Stephens, it must be said, is far too conventionally handsome for the part, but he makes up for it by capturing Rochester's abrasive and mercurial temperament. (Wilson's looks are perfect; at one moment she seems awkward and homely, at another utterly luminous.) Jane Eyre is so often remade because the story is so potent; this production brings all of the novel's juice and passion to the fore, emphasizing the characters' sensual experience while staying true to the restrictions and mores of the period. All in all, exceptional. --Bret Fetzer
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From what I've read, Toby Stephens is too handsome to play a "proper" Mr. Rochester, but he still knocks it out of the park. His acting is great, but--most importantly--he's the perfect Rochester for Ruth Wilson's Jane. Stephens is volatile and unpredictable; one minute he's dark and brooding, and the next minute he's charming and even a little naughty. Unlike many of the Rochesters on film, Stephens has a funny side that shows itself just often enough for viewers to know it's there. He's worldly, blunt, at times even crude, and viewers get the feeling he enjoys toying with Jane Eyre. Every other screen actor who plays Mr. Rochester manages to capture his dark side--sometimes I wonder if they're all trying to out-do each other--but Stephens opens up the character and gives him more depth.
Wilson, meanwhile, plays by far the best Jane Eyre on film. (As an official Amazon reviewer put it, "Wilson's looks are perfect; at one moment she seems awkward and homely, at another utterly luminous." At first, her unconventional looks actually bothered me, but, like Rochester, I found myself falling for her in the end.) She's both fragile and strong, and her performance is heartbreaking in certain scenes. Many of the actresses who play Jane Eyre on film--especially in newer productions--portray her as tough and liberated (Emma Watson leaps to mind). They show their strength by being "equal" to Mr. Rochester; they give him looks, they talk back, they get sassy, and they give him "attitude." Certain viewers may cheer for these "modern" Janes, but I don't believe a governess during that period would ever behave that way with her master--especially opposites like Jane and Mr. Rochester. Wilson's Jane Eyre is painfully shy and reserved. Viewers feel what she feels, but they know she can't tell Mr. Rochester what she really wants to say. The scenes in which Jane must finally open up to Rochester work so beautifully because viewers know how hard it is for her to express herself.
These two are meant for each other. Both suffer from tortured pasts, and both feel painfully alone. Rochester is so rough and outgoing with Jane that he almost seems to frighten her at times--but viewers can see that he also understands her as no one else does. Jane is gentle, but she seems to forgive Rochester for his rage; she never jokes, but she understands his twisted humor.
Don't miss this version. Both Stephens and Wilson bring a depth and a richness to Rochester and Jane that I've never seen in other film versions of Jane Eyre. They give powerhouse individual performances, but, together, their fierce romantic chemistry lifts this production to the heavens.
In details, the story is different than the book in many ways, yet it felt true to the spirit, story, and flow of "Jane Eyre." Even though there was one change I found I didn't agree with.
In the miniseries, Mr. Rochester and Jane's interaction after the wedding and the dramatic reveal (this interaction takes place in Jane's bedroom, recalled in flashbacks) left me feeling that the story had been cheated out of some of its strongest moments, including my favorite speech by Mr. Rochester and Jane's show of fiery independence even when she must stand up against the raging passion of the man she loves. The way the miniseries tells the story, Jane seems incredibly passive in her assertion of self and Mr. Rochester much gentler (although admittedly, still as persistant if not as bull-headed about it).
Although I didn't love the changes they creatively made to this scene, overall it didn't take away from my deep enjoyment of the rest of what was done with this show - and I feel that I understand why they made the changes they did (even if those changes aren't my favorite).
I purchased the DVD in 2011 and while I'm not a big extra or special feature nut, I still like to watch them once - usually after my first time through the movie. I enjoy the behind the scenes look at filming, actor selection, stunt scenes, etc.
BUT - in order to see those things I have to take the DVD-CD and bring it to my computer. They are not accessible on your TV. Bummer. Call me lazy, but I really wish I could see them from the comfort of my couch and not while sitting at my desk. Even though I've had this DVD for a while I still haven't watched them on my computer. I'm also wondering if they are just still pictures or reading material. Hmm I don't want to read about the production details - I want to see extras. If I ever view them I will update this review. The main point is they are not available in ways we are all used to seeing - which is a little bothersome.
The lack of extras and special feature is only one small drawback of this wonderful offering.