~No. 12 - Jane Eyre 2006~
Critics and journalists rant about the number of times Pride and Prejudice has been adapted for the screen, but there have been only two big screen adaptations ever made, and a scant handful of television adaptations - only two of which are available to buy today. Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre, however, must surely be one of the most frequently adapted classics in the canon of English literature. It has been one of the most popular English novels since it was first published in 1847, and out of all the Bronte oeuvre, it is probably one of the easiest works to adapt for film - certainly compared with Emily Bronte's notoriously difficult Wuthering Heights. Most Bronte fans will agree that we're yet to see an even moderately successful adaptation of the virtually unfilmable Wuthering Heights. That doesn't stop film-makers from trying, though. . .
But getting back to Jane Eyre: according to IMDb, there have been 21 film and television adaptations - make that 22, with the Mia Wasikowska-Michael Fassbender version due to come out in March next year. But as of now, the BBC's 2006 miniseries is the most recent attempt to bring Charlotte Bronte's classic to the screen.
[I am not even going to bother including a plot summary in this review. Everyone knows the basic plot of Jane Eyre, and if you don't. . . go and read the book!!]
This adaptation of Jane Eyre had a peculiarly polarising effect on the Bronte-ite community. Some lauded it as the new definitive adaptation of the book. Others called it a travesty. I can't plant myself firmly in either camp - I have very mixed feelings about JE06, and can never quite decide whether to love or hate it. At present I feel more inclined to dislike it, but I may waver over the course of this review.
One of the chief disappointments of JE06 (yes, I know it sounds dorky, and sorry if the constant references to "JE06" get on your nerves, but it's quicker to type than, say, "this adaptation of Jane Eyre") was the script by Sandy Welch (beloved of period drama fans for her work on North & South, Our Mutual Friend, and Emma). Ms. Welch's screenplay for Our Mutual Friend 1998 was good. Very good. I think she did a phenomenal job adapting Dickens' sprawling, complex masterpiece. And though she took some liberties with Elizabeth Gaskell's text, her screenplay for North and South was also good. On the other hand, as far as I'm concerned, the less said about the script for Emma 2009, the better. . . ya'll know my thoughts on that adaptation! (LOL, why am I talking like a Texan. . . must be all of you wonderful American friends I've made friends with via the internet ;-)
Charlotte Bronte had an extraordinary imagination, and a keen appreciation of nature. She may be famous for her novels, but Charlotte had the soul of a poet. She was one of those rare authors - like L.M. Montgomery, perhaps - who wrote prose as though it were poetry.
All this to say: mess around with Charlotte Bronte's beautiful words at your peril! Don't try to improve upon what is already close to perfection! I don't know why it is, and I know it's inconsistent of me, but I can forgive minor alterations to, say, Dickens' or Gaskell's dialogue in a screen adaptation, but attempt a complete reworking of Austen's or Bronte's dialogue, substituting numerous modern words and phrases, and - well - I will generally feel inclined to throw an apoplectic fit or something.
In short, I was mightily disappointed with the screenplay for JE06 - most of the lines were contemporised to within an inch of their lives. But further than that, I was just disappointed with the direction of much of the series, and with the way many of the scenes were handled. Some of the time it almost seemed like they were making this adaptation based on what the public perception of "Jane Eyre" is, not on the book itself. Of course they didn't really, but that's how it felt sometimes. . . They almost missed the point of Jane Eyre. They lost the power and the poetry in the midst of the passion and melodrama.
Perhaps I'm being too harsh. This adaptation does have its strong points. I will now attempt to cease bemoaning JE06's shortcomings for a time, and extol its virtues instead.
*Ruth Wilson as Jane Eyre. One vital element of this story that many JE adaptations fail to emphasise (or else make a joke of by casting relatively "old" actresses) is Jane's youth. She was only a teenager, for crying out loud! Jane's character is an extraordinary blend of youth and vulnerability with an indomitable moral strength and steadfastness. Ruth Wilson captures this more successfully than most other actresses in the role have done, giving a picture of a young girl, alone in the world, who shows tremendous courage, and wisdom beyond her years.
*Toby Stephens, though not my favourite Rochester, is also good. He may not truly look the part (a redhead with a cheeky grin as the dark, brooding Mr. Rochester?), but he does an adequate job portraying the complexities of Rochester's character. (Hehe, I can hear the Toby Stephens fans starting to fume at me now. . . "Only adequate?!")
He and Ruth Wilson had great chemistry together, too. (TS fans: "Only 'great chemistry'?! You say it so casually. . . try unbelievable, out-of-this-world, earth-shattering chemistry!!"). I can sympathise. . . I'm bit of a Rochester fangirl, too - a different Rochester, though. I think most of you know who I'm talking about. . . ;-)
One thing that may bother some viewers, however, is the extent to which the dialogue between Jane and Rochester has been contemporised. I'm not just talking about the words, but the way in which the actors deliver the lines. Some would argue that this is not necessarily a bad thing - better to make the interaction between the two leads contemporary and relatable, than risk stiffness and insincerity in an attempt for period accuracy. But purists will find it hard to watch Jane and Rochester talking and interacting like a modern couple, rather than characters from the early 19th century.
*From a purely aesthetic perspective, this series is a treat. (Even though most of the scenes were not at all as I had imagined them to be from the book ,*grumbles to herself*.) This is a BBC big-budget costume drama and it's gorgeous to look at, right from the opening scene of young Jane walking across the sand dunes in her imagination, dressed in exotic costume. The score by Robert Lane is by turns haunting and sweepingly romantic.
*Georgie Henley is awesome.
Enough extolling virtues for now, here are some small niggles that bothered me:
*Yet another blond Blanche Ingram? Puhleese. . . and if they didn't make Imogen Poots' hair dark for Jane Eyre 2011, and we have another blond Blanche next year, I'm going to - I'm going to - I don't what I'm going to do, actually. Throw another apoplectic fit, perhaps.
*Ruth Wilson is too tall!! Jane Eyre is supposed to be small!!
*Rochester has ginger tendencies! (As mentioned above.)
*What in the world is up with the Rivers sisters being portrayed as silly, giggly girls instead of the mature, intelligent young women they are in the book?
*St John isn't good-looking enough. Needs to get the Greek god thing happening a bit better.
*Why did they have to get rid of the library scene, and instead have Jane and Edward kissing - on a bed?! If you haven't seen this series, don't worry, it doesn't get any "worse" than kissing, but still - the real Jane would never in a million years have allowed this! In the book, after she finds out he's married, she doesn't let him touch her!
*JE06 does a good job bringing Jane and Rochester's romance to the screen, but it doesn't succeed so well in conveying Jane's development as a character whilst she's away from Rochester. Jane Eyre is first and foremost Jane's story - it's not just about the romance. Miss Temple - Jane's friend and mentor through her childhood and teen years - makes only a brief cameo appearance. And from memory - it has been a little while since I last watched this series - I felt that they could have given a completer, more accurate picture of St John Rivers, even in the limited screen time given to him. He's an important character - amongst other things, he is Mr. Rochester's foil. Edward Rochester is far, very far from being a perfect hero (indeed, there is a significant army of anti-Rochesterian readers out there), yet flawed though he may be, his warmth, generosity, and humanity contrast sharply with St John's coldness and self-righteousness.
Summing up, it is the thought of what could have been that mars JE06 for me. The team behind this production had the budget, they had the creative vision (even if it didn't always totally align with my vision of the book), but in the end they came up with a flawed, somewhat hit-and-miss adaptation. It has its moments, but overall I was left feeling disappointed. On second thoughts, if I was so very disappointed, why on earth am I including it in my list of favourite literary adaptations? *Stifles frustrated groan*. I don't rightly know myself. . . Well, it is a powerful and entertaining Gothic drama in and of itself. And like I said near the beginning of this post, my feelings on this series tend to fluctuate a great deal. Sometimes I decide that I really do love it, other times (as now), I throw my hands up in despair and grumble that it is one of the most over-rated period dramas of recent years!
Bottom line is: watch it. Whether you end up loving it or hating it, (or else exist in a perpetually undecided state, like me), it is worth watching. Provided, of course, that you have read the book! If you haven't, please read the book first! Odds are, you aren't one of my younger siblings, so I can't force you to read the book first (unfortunately), but I still really really think it would be a good idea for you to read the book first.
And before I close this review, I should mention that there are a couple of scenes in this series that I fast-forward through. In any case, whether you fast-forward scenes or not, this series is really only appropriate for older viewers - teens and up. For a complete overview of any objectionable content, please read the Charity's Place review!
Edit: I've been struggling to verbalise this all through my review, but I'll try now. . .
All bookworms will testify to this - there are some books you read (especially when you're young) that leave a really deep impression on you. Sometimes you can't even figure out exactly what it is that makes you love x book so much. But somehow, it connected with something deep within you, and from that moment, that book will always be with you. Those are the books that you love and treasure always - those are the books that somehow become a part of you, and that mold and influence the person you become.
If a movie adaptation manages to capture a glimpse of that spark, that magic something that left such a deep impression on you when you read the book, then you know it's a good adaptation! It will probably be enjoyed by many (though not necessarily all) readers of the book, and it will hopefully induce many uninitiated moviegoers/TV viewers to check out the book.
This is ultimately the measure by which I judge film and TV versions of my favourite books - not by how faithful it is in letter to the book, or how long it is, or whether it was made on a large or a miniscule budget. . .
And this is why I like the 1980 and 2005 versions of Pride and Prejudice better than the highly acclaimed 1995 series. It's also the reason why I don't love the 2006 version of Jane Eyre. But don't let that put you off watching it - it's a very well-made series, and is the second-best adaptation of Jane Eyre ever made, in my humble opinion.
*Sighs*. . . What is it about us Janeites and Bronteites. . . we demand perfection in movie adaptations of our beloved P&Ps and JEs, and when those movie adaptations don't measure up to our impossible expectations, we spend countless hours criticising their faults on blogs, forums, etc. We're a cantankerous old bunch. . . I wonder how the rest of the world puts up with us? Dickens fans, for instance, are nowhere near as unreasonable as we are!
Must finish now.
Please share your thoughts on Jane Eyre 2006! Are you a fan, or a detractor - or are you caught in a state of perpetual indecision, like me? A Toby-Stephens-as-Rochester fangirl, or no? Any elements of this miniseries that you particularly loved - or hated?
~Most of the pictures in this post are from Fragilidad.