Jane Eyre: The Adaptations



1934 Version (Colin Clive, Virginia Bruce)

Short, sweet and to the point, the oldest available version with sound, it is more slapstick comedy than Victorian Gothic. Jane is quite pretty, while Edward is far more Darcy than Rochester. A silly, but cute little film bearing little to no resemblance to Charlotte Bronte’s novel.

1944 Version (Orson Welles, Joan Fontaine)

This classic does justice to the more gothic elements of the novel, and the black and white film certainly adds to the eeriness, but Jane is far too glamorous, and while Orson Welles does an admirable job of portraying Edward’s darker side, it is rushed and leaves out important aspects of the novel.

1970 Version (George C. Scott, Susannah York)

Featuring an early film score by John Williams, unique sets and a lovely landscape, this feels very different from any before or after it. Unfortunately, it is marred by two actors who do a great job, but are too old for the roles to be totally believable.

1973 Version (Michael Jayston, Sorcha Cusack)

Taking pages of dialogue from the novel, often in the form of a voice over, this version strives for accuracy and faithfulness. The acting on the part of the leads is excellent but some secondary characters suffer from overacting, and if any other flaw can be found, it is that with the production values of the day it was very clearly made on a soundstage.

1983 Version (Timothy Dalton and Zelah Clarke)

This production has many of the same good and bad qualities of the 1973 film. The use of tape rather than film and shooting on sound stages makes for a difficult viewing experience until one accustoms themselves to it. The acting is mostly excellent and being the longest version available allows for faithfulness to the novel.

1996 Version (William Hurt, Charlotte Gainsbourg)

The beautiful music, costumes, set design and cinematography cannot make up for the fact that this version (especially Jane’s early years) have been mangled. The actors do the best they can with what they have, but both Jane and Rochester come off as exceedingly depressed the entire film.

1997 Version (Ciarán Hinds, Samantha Morton)

Also short and sweet but does manage to get a fair chunk of the novel into a small amount of time; the actors look remarkably like they are described and while Jane is small, quiet and passionate, Hinds’ Rochester only manages to show his angry side, never fully grasping Edward.

2006 Version (Toby Stephens, Ruth Wilson)

A beautiful version with a nice length, great acting, and fantastic production values. This adaptation focuses on the gothic elements to great success, but goes overboard by trying to make the story “sexier” and by bashing the viewer over the head with symbolism that did not exist in the book.

2011 Version (Michael Fassbender, Mia Wasikowska

Another visually stunning adaptation on par with the 1996 film. This version does the most admirable job of adapting the novel for the big screen, though is still not 100% successful due to time constraints. While Fassbender puts in a fairly decent Rochester, Wasikowska is rather underwhelming as Jane. ■



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