Thursday, May 24, 2007

Jane Eyre (2006, Masterpiece Theatre)

If there is anyone present who is not familiar with the story of Jane Eyre, be aware that I'll be giving away much of the story in the course of this post, and there are several things which I would not recommend knowing before reading the book, or at least seeing an adaption of it.

Masterpiece Theatre has put out the most recent adaption of the ever-popular Jane Eyre, and I've heard many excellent things about it. Consequently I had very high expectations and was looking forward to seeing it. And, frankly, I was disappointed, and that disappointment came very early on in the viewing.

I very much liked the way they opened... Jane (as a young girl, played by Georgie Henley) in the midst of the desert, and then the cut back to reality, where we see her perched behind the curtains, book in hand, studying the drawing of the desert and other mysterious and far-off places. And then the enjoyment ended. As Jane is dragged up to the Red Room, we're treated with a rather heavy dose of the clumsy camera-work which seems so fashionable nowadays... the jittering and jolting and jerking. It's possible that it's meant to make the viewer feel more a 'part of the action.' I always wonder if the man behind the camera saw the swiftly-moving actors coming too close and took a few hurried backward steps to get out of the way, and spent the remainder of the take trembling at the close call. Or perhaps he's so busy watching the action that he forgot about the camera. Or perhaps they simply did it that way on purpose.

Jane's childhood is a very important part of the book. It lays the foundation for all that is to occur afterwards, not only story-wise, but Jane-wise as well. It's from the experiences of her childhood that Jane is able to resist the temptations that come and stand morally firm.

In this adaption very little time is spent on Jane's childhood. In fact, much, much too little. The character of Helen, who in the book teaches Jane of trust in God and the insistence on doing what is right, no matter the personal suffering and sacrifice, is reduced to merely a friend, who we hardly become acquainted to before she dies. Under the circumstances, it's no surprise that Jane was a bit more lax in her morality later when Mr. Rochester begs her to stay with him.

I have no complaints of Ruth Wilson as the older Jane. She did an admirable job.

Toby Stephens as Mr. Rochester (I must always add the 'Mr.,' else I think of the Jack Benny show), however, is a bit of a different tale. Part of it was due to the writing of the script. Mr. Rochester was portrayed as too kind too soon. Aside from their first meeting, his gruff and at times rather boorish exterior are melted very quickly away. The way his character was written was my main quibble, but the actor himself seemed to lack a bit of the ability to portray all the subtle aspects of Mr. Rochester's character.

Perhaps I interpret the story in an odd and improbable way, but my first impression of Mr. Rochester was decidedly negative. He was rude, both to Jane and Adele, he was insensitive, and rather selfish (not to mention that he admitted to disliking children!). And gradually there was an unfolding of his real character, and a realisation that he was in fact kind, intelligent, and thoughtful in general. I wouldn't say that he hid these attributes... the circumstances of his past made him rather dark and moody. It was through Jane, good and pure, and of a more noble character, that he was able to change. For he did have to change. His goodness wasn't simply hidden, it was actually lacking, though the potential was always there. He realised this, as he revealed in one of his first conversations with Jane. He met an admirable woman in Jane, and at some point, he fell in love with her. It gave him something to aspire to, and so he cultivated his good qualities once again. He reaches what he always felt he was meant to reach at the very end of the book, when not only has he become a good man, but turns to God.

Mr. Rochester of the Masterpiece Theatre adaption seemed lacking in this conversion. Rather than a complete reconstruction of his ways, it seemed that all he needed was someone to make him laugh, and he laughed very early on. At that point, it was over. He had reached the peak of the mountain, aside from the lingering selfishness that was manifested in his pleas for Jane to remain with him.

The whole relationship between Jane and Mr. Rochester fell on the flat side. On more than one occasion it was reduced to nothing more than the typical Hollywood romance, which catches the attention of the average movie-goer but lacks anything substantial. In fact, the majority of the philosophical elements of the story were forsaken in this adaption.

Mr. Rochester's wife was another great disappointment. I can still remember the thrills of horror that went through me when I first read the story. A quote from the book:

"It was a discoloured face--it was a savage face. I wish I could forget the roll of the red eyes and the fearful blackened inflation of the lineaments!"

"Ghost are usually pale, Jane."

"This, sir, was purple: the lips were swelled and dark; the brow furrowed; the black eyebrows widely raised over the blood-shot eyes."

This description of Bertha Rochester always made the deepest impression on me. It had such bearing later on, when Mr. Rochester revealed his wife after the interrupted wedding. "This young girl," he said, "who stands so grave and quiet at the mouth of hell, looking collectedly at the gambols of a demon."

Mrs. Rochester, however, looked perfectly and utterly normal, aside from a rather vacant expression on her face. When Mr. Rochester utters his line one half expects Mr. Wood to respond: "Well, she looks all right to me!"

(And as an aside, concerning this same scene, the boys were not only disappointed with the normal appearance of Mr. Rochester's wife, but disgusted that he needed Grace Poole's help in throwing her off.)

The less said about Mr. Rochester's attempts to keep Jane with him, the better. The scene is done as a flashback, taking place when Jane is with Mr. Rivers and his sisters. Perhaps it's not so surprising that Mr. Rochester should overdo it with the kissing, but Jane's submitting to it is simply ridiculous. In the book he considered it, but the expression of her eyes drove him back. I couldn't help but feel throughout the whole scene that the writers didn't feel the minds of the viewers would be able to comprehend Jane's repeated refusals, and so pandered to what they believe we can comprehend, which is Hollywood-style romance. But, regardless of what they thought, it was a complete departure from both the book and character of Jane Eyre.

The character of Mr. Rivers was very poorly done. I've already expressed briefly my thoughts on what he is in the book. Hs insistence that Jane must marry him and become a missionary with him, his reading of Scripture passages on Hell directed most obviously to her after her refusal, his constant expressions of how he 'fears for her soul,' and other simply crazy notions. Here the closest he came to it was saying: "Jane, it is your destiny!" But, on the whole, he was rather cute and likeable. The boys were shocked to hear of the reality of his strange character, after seeing him as portrayed in this adaption.

On my first reading of the book, it was Mr. Rivers that made me soften towards Mr. Rochester. Unfortunately it was the other way around in this case... I found myself wistfully wishing that Jane could simply stay with Mr. Rivers, and forget about Mr. Rochester entirely.

The ending has caused much grief to all, those who are fans of this adapation and those, like myself, who don't care for it at all. The fact that Mr. Rochester remains blind was simply wrong. The return of his sight signified so much in so many different ways. I found the following passage one of the most moving of the book:

He cannot now see very distinctly: he cannot read or write much, but he can find his way without being led by the hand: the sky is no longer a blank to him--the earth no longer a void. When his first-born was put into his arms, he could see that the boy had inherited his own eyes, as they once were--large, brilliant, and black. On that occasion, he again, with a full heart, acknowledged that God had tempered justice with mercy.

And in particular the line: "the earth no longer a void." No longer a void in more than just his sight. The fact that the earth remained a void to Mr. Rochester in the adaption was extremely depressing.

And, lastly, the final shot of the film, with the family portrait, was simply just too much of a Hollywood ending.

I'm terribly upset that I disliked it so much. One of the most exciting elements of reading anything by Jane Austen or the Bronte sisters (and recently, Elizabeth Gaskell) is afterwards finding a good and enjoyable adaption to film. I found the 1995 Pride and Prejudice, the excellent Wives and Daughters, and despite the briefness, Emma Thompson's Sense and Sensibility is simply superb. I was so looking forward to four hours worth of an excellent Jane Eyre, and I'm so sorry I couldn't find it.

However, I did find a little less than two hours worth, which I simply adore, which holds an honoured place on the shelf next to Citizen Kane, and of which a write-up will be forthcoming.


Faith said...

Hi Mary-Therese,

I had almost the exact same response as you did to this adaption. Have you seen the movie with Orson Welles? He is my favorite Rochester. And the old BBC/Masterpiece Theater version of Jane Eyre with Timothy Dalton (who is too handsome for the part but otherwise is excellent)is my favorite mini-series/true to the book version. But the production values are very 70's.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading your review!

Anonymous said...

Wow, what a coincidence! We just rented Citizen Kane so Ashley could see it. We hope to watch it today. I'm interested in reading your review of it.

Great reviews, by the way. I'm sad to say that I couldn't agree more with your review of Therese.

Mrs. Lively :)

Meg said...

You're very right in your report...I was very upset especially after I had spent my birthday gift card on it...ARGH. Because, I was sure that it would be fine. Obviously I was mistaken.