Wednesday, February 22, 2012

JANE EYRE (2011)

The latest adaptation of the Charlotte Bronte novel opens with our heroine Jane Eyre (Mia Wasikowska) fleeing from (what we later learn is) Thornfield Hall and onto the stormy moors.  Cold, wet and exhausted Jane collapses at the threshold of the remote domicile of clergyman St. John Rivers (Jamie Bell) and his sisters.  They nurse the girl to health, and the grateful Jane reveals to them (and us) her tumultuous history.  Orphaned as a child, Jane (played here by Amelia Clarkson) lives with her cruel aunt, Mrs. Reed (Sally Hawkins) who sends the girl to the oppressive Lowood School as soon as she can.  There Jane deals with institutionalized torment under the guise of piety.  The sadistic instructors succeed in mortifying her flesh but not her spirit.  When she comes of age, Jane leaves the school by becoming governess to a French-speaking ward at Thornfield Hall under the watchful but kindly eye of housekeeper Mrs. Fairfax (Judi Dench).  When master of the house Rochester (Michael Fassbender) returns, the moody gentleman shows an uncharacteristic interest in Jane.  His interest becomes more acute when the governess, roused from sleep by a strange noise, saves his life after she discovers a fire nearly consuming his sleeping chamber.  Nevertheless Rochester remains preoccupied -- with Lady Blanche Ingram (Imogen Poots) whom society fully expects him to marry and with a dark secret that will eventually drive Jane from his home.  Moira Buffini’s thrifty screenplay, while lean, remains adequately nourished.  The characters are keenly drawn without undue flourish.  Likewise Cary Fukunaga’s nuanced direction retains a rich period atmosphere while using a succinct visual style to prevent the film’s pace from becoming overly deliberate.  The supporting performances are uniformly excellent, with Hawkins as decorously nasty as Dench is quietly endearing.  As the mercurial Rochester, Fassbender achieves a fascinating blend of roiling passion and enigmatic diffidence.  But the movie rightly belongs to the wonderful Wasikowska whose portrayal effortlessly captures Jane’s strength, conviction and self-worth.

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