Terrible secrets for those that swan around the titular character are the downfall of their misgivings and aims. Jane Eyre is a fascinating tale that, when translated to the screen, has the opportunity to make right with its consistent dialogue between Eyre and the reader. To stage that on the screen, with camera angles and pieces to camera, monologues that detail the heartbreak and sorrow of Eyre and her immediate friends and family, is far easier than referring to it on the pages and pages offered up by Charlotte Brontë. Her prose was good, but is no match for the cutting and directing of Cary Joji Fukunaga, whose English-language debut sees him tackle a strong literary work.
Tackling any sort of literary work demands equally strong actors. Jane Eyre stacks its cast full of charming lead performers in the form of Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender, but also with dependable supporting actors like Jamie Bell, Judi Dench and Sally Hawkins. Bell, in particular, riding the high of his post-Billy Elliot days, finds himself in a strong role as St. John. His sideburns may not be convincing, but his performance is a magnificent display of the cold-hearted mannerisms of John’s characteristics. His dependency on family and the keen difference between his own upbringing and that of Eyre is nicely defined and a brief cause of conflict in the moments that transition Eyre into that of an adult. But much of that is dependant also on the darker, brooding tones found throughout.
Moody, and steeped heavily in a grey, uncomfortable tragedy, Jane Eyre is a stellar adaptation of an interesting text. Wasikowska embodies all the grieving merits and sudden lucky breaks the eponymous character receives, and her performance is the clear highlight. Her ability to spur emotion from the magnificent surroundings works hand in hand with Fukunaga’s direction. His attempts to show a sprawling, great landscape is well realised. Awful weather and desperate actions open the film, and the abuse and torture for Eyre’s early life don’t end there. Craig Roberts provides an early, excellent scene that summarises those awful moments, and Jane Eyre soon improves and adapts from there. A thoroughly interesting, technically gifted feature that relies on the surrounding sets just as much as it depends on connecting with an audience who should, hopefully, feel bad for Eyre.
If they don’t, then it’s a tough uphill struggle for Fukunaga. His core effort is in surrounding Eyre with awful people. Hawkins provides that magnificently, and these bitter, early moments offer a gradual pay-off that reveals darker secrets about these characters. Eyre is the reason these characters have that revealing light shined on them, and Jane Eyre makes those moments worth our while. Wasikowska is the quietly reserved character these period pieces feel they must offer when trading blows with darker subject matters. It is not the bright and frilly fun of Pride and Prejudice, nor does Jane Eyre share in its soppy notes of romantic persuasion. There is love and fear within Jane Eyre, but it is conveyed with a terror as dark and relentless as the muddy fields and beaten characters.