Gothic novels have an irresistible charm – their stories are of emotions, often muted by society’s rules and characters’ severe upbringing. The tension caused by this suppression of feelings is what makes the books powerful and timeless, and Charlotte Brontë‘s Jane Eyre is among the greatest of gothic novels, which is why adapting it for the big screen must have been a real challenge for director Cary Fukunaga (Sin nombre (2009)) – thankfully, it is a challenge that he has risen to very well.
Jane (Mia Wasilewska) runs through the dark hills, struggling against the rain and wind, desperate to find shelter. Who is she running from, where is she going to? Quite a confusing and unclear scene, but one that implies Jane will probably have to struggle a lot. Via a chain of flashbacks in the movies opening, we learn about her sad childhood, her parents’ death, years spent in her hateful aunt’s house and finally her time spent in a boarding school run by sadistic nuns.
All these experiences have made a strong woman of a ‘plain Jane’ – she is ambitious, and willing to work hard to earn her living. The opportunity arises when she’s offered a job as the governess of Adèle Varens (Romy Settbon Moore) who is the ward of Rochester (Michael Fassbender), the master of the grand Thornfield manor. For months, Jane only hears stories of the mysterious Rochester, who seems to a dark and severe man, but who is just and fair to his workers.
Housekeeper Mrs Fairfax (Dame Judi Dench) shares little information, so Jane and Rochester’s first meeting is both exciting and frightening for the young governess – Rochester is just as coarse as described by the housekeeper, yet he becomes fond of the unshakable, seemingly indifferent, but nevertheless intelligent and fearless Jane. She becomes his pupil and gladly takes on the role of master’s pet and finally, the object of his affection, and they live a relatively pleasant, isolated life until the secrets hiding in the dark corners of the gloomy estate are finally revealed…
As is customary in a gothic novel, the story is built around the relation between the innocent girl and an older, seemingly dangerous man. This time, however, the obstacles standing in the way of love are cseemingly unconquerable – the narrative is very much constructed around the dialogue and the underlying emotional tension between the lead characters. Fassbender is convincing as an attractive, passionate, yet abrupt master and commander and Mia Wasilewska amazing with her limpid style, that shows restraint but is at the same time very engaging.
Rarely does she show any emotions but, when she does, it makes the scenes even more moving and powerful. The only thing that is missing is an indication of the moment when the couple’s relationship changed and evolved into true, deep feeling. Nevertheless, the latest adaptation of Jane Eyre shows the director’s real understanding of the story’s unforgettable emotional intensity.