Last night I went to a screening of the new Jane Eyre, due to open in many cities next Friday.  As the Washington Post film critic told us at the movie’s conclusion, this is something like the 18th adaptation of Charlotte Bronte’s classic.  I’ve seen about five or six and I’m willing to go out on a limb and say that Michael Fassbender is my favorite Rochester, but Mia Wasikowska, while quite good, remains a bit flat as Jane.

The movie is a quite literal adaption of the story, despite some time shifts in the narrative that make sense for film as a medium, and manages to tell the entirety of the tale in just two hours. It’s also gorgeously shot, conveying the sweep of the bleak landscape around Thornfield Hall, as well as a few bright patches of sunshine in spring.  You get a real sense of the isolation of Thornfield.

But the high point is Mr. Rochester. Michael Fassbender is an actor on the fast track and it’s easy to see why. Many probably know him from Inglorious Bastards, the Quentin Tarrantino movie, but heck, those of lower brow (like me) also know him  from 300 and the guilty pleasure British TV series Hex in which he played fallen angel Azazel.  He’ll also be seen as the young Magneto opposite James McAvoy’s Charles Xavier in the upcoming X Men: First Class. For the record, I was already excited about that movie, but now I’m even more so.

Jane EyreIt’s tough to cast Mr. Rochester with a conventionally pretty boy handsome actor because Bronte is specific that he is not handsome – in fact, in one of the book’s and the movie’s most memorable scenes, Jane tells him that he is not. Fassbender, while blazingly hot, is attractive in a sort of craggy way, allowing Hollywood to have it’s handsome leading man, without really doing so. But, more to the point, his performance as Mr. Rochester blazes with passion.  From his casual cruelty to his ward and housekeeper to his gradual awakening to the passions banked within Jane, he is playful, passionate, and brooding.  And, oh yeah, sexy.

Anybody who saw Mia Wasikowska in the excellent HBO series In Treatment, knows she is an incredible actress. But the important thing about Jane is that, while she is as ruthlessly controlled as the world has forced her to be, there is a fire and a passion within her that Mr. Rochester recognizes when he meets her.  With that said, it’s hard to tell why here. Her face remains flat and she doesn’t respond to the twinkle in the eyes of Rochester as the two engage in their early debates.  She looked right, but it just wasn’t there.

The bottom line? If you’re an Anglophile (and you know who you are), then this movie is your drug since it is an excellent adaptation of a beloved tale. And, in case you can’t tell by now, Mr. Rochester is to die for. Seriously.  And, yep, he’s my favorite.

My mother was a frustrated casting director and Jane Eyre was one of her favorite books.  According to my mom, the two casting insults she could never get past were Vivian Leigh as Scarlett O’Hara (an Englishwoman playing the great Southern heroine was something my born and bred Southern mother could not accept – she wanted Susan Hayward) and George C. Scott as Rochester in a 1970s TV version of the story. While I got awfully tired of hearing about both these cases, she had a point. With Katherine Heigl playing Stephanie Plum and set to be Diana Gabaldon’s Claire, I’m beginning to understand the outrage.  Heigl as Claire?  No freakin’ way.

So, my questions are these:

  • Are you looking forward to Jane Eyre?
  • What do you think of the casting of Jane and Rochester?
  • Are there any particular casting abominations you’re still grinding your teeth over?

– Sandy AAR

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