Back in early 2011, As part of my quest to prepare for the release of Cary Fukunaga’s Jane Eyre adaptation, I decided to watch as many of the previous films as possible to give me some context. This is the last of the versions I watched before seeing the 2011 version.
Today we review the 2006 WGBH version of Jane Eyre, starring Toby Stephens and Ruth Wilson.
It must be said first that these two are by far the best-fitted actors for these parts of all the versions I’ve seen. They understand that Rochester’s sternness and Jane’s asceticism are façades that have been thrust on them by their pasts. Their performances are at once the most understated and most three-dimensional of the actors in these films. The directors and writers wisely included almost all of Jane and Rochester’s conversations that occur before they reveal their love to one another. In this way, they show us that, while J&R are indeed passionate people who have a strong physical attraction, their initial bond is one of intellect, built on the delight of discovering that they, as formerly misunderstood people, have found someone who sees past the façade and reads their “shorthand”. This Jane and Rochester are really buddies. I squee’d through many a scene.
The production is beautiful. The locations were clearly lovingly chosen, not just for the rooms and houses, but for the natural surroundings, which is a nice bow to the role that Nature plays in Jane Eyre. In passing, every time I see one of these British big novel movies, I think that England must just be the Land of Awesome Trees.
The movie strikes a nice balance between staying faithful to the book and being aware of its medium as a film. It stays true to the spirit of the book, although strangely enough, it sometimes added conversations and scenes that brought nothing to the film.
I also wondered about the first ten minutes of the film, which cover Jane’s expulsion from Gateshead Hall and her subsequent education at Lowood. They cast Georgie Henley (Lucy from “Chronicles of Narnia”), who looks waaaay too healthy and snub-nosed to play Jane Eyre; she was apparently directed to be as angry and disobedient as possible, which I felt took away from a fuller realization of the real character. Jane is driven to be violent and resistant by her situation. It breaks forth from her at moments when she’s lost control, and she feels sorry about it later, because it’s not the way she actually wants to be.
Really, though, this is the best version of all the adaptations I watched. Excellent pacing, thoughtful writing, amazing casting.
Five lightning strikes.