You could be forgiven if you have a feeling of déjà vu at the movies this weekend. According to IMDB there are at least 22 versions of the Charlotte Brontë novel “Jane Eyre,” the first dating back to 1910, the most recent opening this today.
“Alice in Wonderland’s” Mia Wasikowska makes the title role her own in director Cary Fukunaga’s elegant retelling of Jane Eyre’s search for happiness and love. After a bleak, loveless childhood Eyre finds employment as a governess at Thornfield Hall, working for the brooding Mr. Rochester (Michael Fassbender). The pair forms a romantic bond but this is a gothic story, so of course Jane’s happiness is waylaid by her fiancée’s terrible secret.
Fukunaga, whose last film was the violent Spanish language “Sin Nombre,” has created the most gothic version of “Jane Eyre” to date. Things go bump in the night, mysterious shadows lurk in flickering candle light and mortal danger seems constantly close at hand. It’s a gorgeous vision, ripe with the repression and melancholy so crucial to the story. It is spare in a way that Victorian period pieces rarely are, yet sumptuous with atmosphere to burn.
The movie looks fantastic but that wouldn’t mean much if the characters weren’t as well defined as they are in the hands of Wasikowska and Fassbender. As plain Jane Wasikowska brings a quiet intensity and resolve to the role while Fassbender gives Rochester a brooding bravado which belies his troubled mind. Together, sparks fly and the passion of the story bubbles to the surface despite the reserved nature of the storytelling.
Add to that terrific supporting work from Judi Dench as the devoted housekeeper Mrs. Fairfax and a nice turn by Amelia Clarkson as young Jane and you have a worthy addition to the “Jane Eyre” canon.