Jane Eyre is one of the most famous literary works of Charlotte Bronte and one that has been adapted numerous times for stage and screen. 2011 saw the release of Cary Fukunaga’s take in the canonical work, using the script penned by Moira Buffini sees the casting of Mia Wasikowska as the titular character and Michael Fassbender as her Rochester. It took a healthy $32m at the worldwide box office and was one of the more successful independent films of 2011.
Jane Eyre (Wasikowska) endures a troubled upbringing, abused by her relatives and then forced to endure harsh conditions at Lowood School as she trains to become a Governess. Upon receiving invitation from Mrs. Fairfax (Judi Dench) to work at Thornfield Hall, she has a chance encounter with the Master of the house, Edward Rochester (Fassbender) and the two realise that they enjoy each others company a great deal.
The first thing you notice when watching this adaptation of Jane Eyre, is just how barren and desolate the environment is. Every element of comfort and brightness is sapped and the cold British countryside is more like an alien world, which creates the perfect atmosphere for this buttoned-up and ruthless take on the famous novel. Little joy is taken in any of the key moments, which create a rather heartless feeling, if beautiful film. Luckily the casting is almost perfect.
Jane Eyre boasts a cast of veterans and up-and-comers. Judi Dench is excellent as the fussy housemaid, while Jamie Bell is heart-breakingly annoying as the spurned clergyman. However, Wasikowska is the star as she is able to restrain herself almost completely while having to endure some really troubling times. She is shown to the audience as plain, but stoic, never backing down and as tough as anyone in the whole film. It’s an incredible performance from such a young actress, but by removing any Hollywood gloss, she is utterly convincing.
It’s a shame then, that Fassbender is cast as Rochester. It isn’t a bad performance, far from it in fact, as he once again shows the world his talent, it’s his raging sex appeal that is so out of place with the character. Rochester is not Heathcliff, or Mr. Darcy, he is less beautiful and full of sex appeal than the other more stereotypical alpha males. In fact casting him with someone of the broody, fiery passion of Fassbender seems a cheap attempt to draw in female audiences. It also cheapens Jane Eyre’s attraction to him and paints her as more vacuous than is fair.