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Review: Jane Eyre

THE Brontë sisters are back in fashion this autumn. November heralds Andrea Arnold’s eagerly anticipated adaptation of Wuthering Heights, distinguished by the casting of James Howson as the first black actor to portray Heathcliff on the big screen.

A scene from the film Jane Eyre
A scene from the film Jane Eyre

THE Brontë sisters are back in fashion this autumn.

November heralds Andrea Arnold’s eagerly anticipated adaptation of Wuthering Heights, distinguished by the casting of James Howson as the first black actor to portray Heathcliff on the big screen.

In the meantime, director Cary Joji Fukunaga spoils us with his artfully composed version of Charlotte Brontë’s timeless romance, the first film version since Zeffirelli paired Charlotte Gainsbourg and William Hurt as the lovers across the social divide.

He chooses Mia Wasikowska as much-abused heroine Jane and is rewarded with a deeply moving and emotionally wrought performance.

With a single mournful look into the camera, the fast-rising Australian actress conveys all of the unspoken desires and shattered dreams of a young woman who has survived as much by her wits as by good fortune.

She is both beautiful yet ghostly pale, flushing with colour when Jane experiences the first pangs of love.

Michael Fassbender proves a sexy and brooding Rochester, who falls under Jane’s spell but conceals a terrible, dark secret that could poison their relationship forever.

The colour-bleached film opens with Jane fleeing in tears from Thornfield Hall where she has been employed as governess for Rochester’s young ward.

Stumbling across the moors, she seeks refuge with clergyman St John Rivers (Jamie Bell) and his sisters and, as she recuperates, she recalls her turbulent past.

She remembers her childhood as a 10-year-old with her cruel aunt Mrs Reed (Sally Hawkins) before being sent off to Lowood charity school, where a friendship with sickly girl Helen stiffens her resolve.

Once she comes of age, she finds employment at Thornfield, where housekeeper Mrs Fairfax (Dame Judi Dench) welcomes her warmly.

Fleeting romantic notions with Rochester are extinguished with the arrival of Blanche, who the downstairs staff believe will become the master’s wife.

However, something wicked lurks in the upstairs attic.

Elegantly adapted for the screen by Moira Buffini, the film condenses the source novel into two hours of yearning and regret.

Wasikowska and Fassbender lead an exemplary ensemble cast, including Dench as a bustling maternal figure and Hawkins as a tight-lipped lady who can turn a room icy cold with a single withering glance.

Fukunaga’s camera sweeps over the foreboding locations, lashing his lead actress with enough wind and rain to match the emotional battering meted out in her early years.

Jane is a survivor and we will her on, every faltering step.

 

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