It's a dark film lit only by the limits of candlelight. So much is concealed and our eyes never fully adjust to the light. In fact, it's never bathed in sunlight, staying true to its earthy, grounded realism, which isn't suited to everyone's tastes, but is worth the experience nonetheless.
If you never read the novel in high school (for shame!), Jane Eyre (Mia Wasikowska, The Kids Are Alright) is a governess of an orphaned background at Thornfield Hall, owned by misanthropic Mr. Rochester (Michael Fassbender, Fish Tank, Inglourious Basterds). Her fierce independence and will, cultivated from childhood as a means of survival, complement his disdain for the manners of courtly ladies above their station, and the two are drawn together. However, the manor itself is in dire need of an exorcism. There are seemingly ghosts and goblins intent on powder-kegging any blissful moment with frightening noises. But sometimes it's with attempted murder.
Director Fukunaga eschews previous versions that would frame Jane Eyre in a romantic, all's-well light, instead building this world as one of torment, baggage and regret, where we're never quite sure if Jane and Rochester's romance is a good or bad thing. This may or may not be confusing, but there is a sick pleasure in that tension.
Jane Eyre was never a happy-happy, Austen-esque story to begin with, and Fukunaga enhances this aspect skillfully, dousing what should be a Hollywood ending in quiet suffering. Clocking in at two hours, with many maudlin moments, Jane Eyre could use a tighter edit, as there is too much loitering and not enough bounce in the pace.
Michael Fassbender gives Rochester's coarse rancor an undulating intensity. For women in the audience, this is pure arousal. The man bewitches every scene he's in. Supporting actors Judi Dench and Jamie Bell (The Eagle, Billy Elliot) feel underused for such massive talents. Pay close attention to Dario Marianelli's piano and violin score, as it could stand alone as a masterful aria. (Alliance)
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