It’s terribly, terribly hard to do something fresh, exciting and new with the adaptation of a classic novel, especially if that novel’s been adapted countless times already. Play it too safe and you’ll risk boring and disappointing your audience; deviate too far from the storyline and you end up committing artistic hara-kiri, upsetting the book’s admirers and potentially failing to attract anyone else. A lot of people liked Joe Wright’s 2005 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, calling it pleasantly naturalistic and grounded, but I’m not one of those people. This is partly because I think Wright’s a bafflingly overrated talent, but also because Keira Knightley, for my money, isn’t a patch on Jennifer Ehle in the BBC TV series.
However Cary Fukunaga’s new adaptation of Jane Eyre gets a difficult and often inconsistent book about right, and does so with cinematic panache and the welcome feeling that something entirely new has been brought to bear on it. Working from a terse, witty script by Moira Buffini that leaves out some of the novel’s more ridiculous developments, Fukunaga (aided by his splendid cinematographer, Adriano Goldman) shoots the entire film in a fashion that’s simultaneously naturalistic and stylised. Several key scenes appear to be lit entirely by candlelight (shades of Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon) but the film’s bleakness and unfussy visual scheme are set in relief by the excellent casting.
Michael Fassbender is rapidly proving himself to be one of the most interesting and charismatic actors who has emerged in recent years, with performances in things as eclectic as Hunger, Inglourious Basterds and X Men: First Class showing that he’s an enormously versatile presence who can alternate between stiff-upper-lip suavity and quite terrifying extremes of emotion apparently at a whim. As Mr Rochester, he’s simultaneously witty, damaged and passionate, perfectly conveying the character’s Byronic nature, but not stinting on the touches of cruelty and perversity that sit all too well with Rochester. He’s aided splendidly by Mia ‘Alice In Wonderland’ Waskiowska as Jane; although I didn’t think she was much cop as Alice, she was sublime in The Kids Are All Right, and here she plays the very definition of a plain Jane, with her open, slightly piscine face constantly on guard to some new slight or hurt to be visited upon her.
The supporting cast are all good – save for the obligatory Judi Dench appearance as the kindly housekeeper Mrs Fairfax (in which, gods be praised, she actually acts rather than allows herself to appear) it’s not made up of the usual period drama favourites, but instead we get nice appearances by Jamie Bell as a priggish St John Rivers, Sally Hawkins as a disconnectedly vile Mrs Reed and an arch Simon McBurney as Mr Brocklehurst. It’s very well paced, running at a lean two hours, and, in its own subtle way, this represents something of a revival for the high-brow literary adaptation. Apparently around 30 minutes was trimmed from Fukunaga’s original cut – pre-release interviews about the film being ‘Gothic’ are only partially borne out- but this doesn’t hurt it in the slightest.
Jane Eyre has panache
Cary Fukunaga’s new adaptation of Jane Eyre gets a difficult and often inconsistent book about right, and does so with cinematic panache and the welcome feeling that something entirely new has been brought to bear on it.
Alex Larman woke up at the tender age of 23 and, Martin Luther King-like, announced to the world that he had a dream. He was simultaneously going to write the 21st century's answer to Ulysses, direct the film that the bastard child of Scorsese, Kubrick and George Formby might have made and become a global roue on a hitherto unknown scale. Then reality kicked in, and the dream collapsed, in favour of a parlous and occasionally sketchy existence maintained writing about food, drink, film and all the other essential requirements of a modern boulevardier's life.
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