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Written by: Moira Buffini based on the novel by Charlotte Bronte

Directed by: Cary Joji Fukunaga

Starring: Mia Wasikowska, Michael Fassbender, Judi Dench, Sally Hawkins, Jamie Bell, Imogen Poots

Who am I to review Cary Joji Fukunaga’s adaptation of Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre? I’ve spent my life stubbornly avoiding Charlotte and Emily Bronte, Elizabeth Gaskell, Jane Austin; writer’s I associate with stories of dull women in love with stuffy men, all set against the backdrop of garish and decadent Victorian estates and told in the slowest way possible. I’m not saying it’s fair of me to assume any of that, I’m just saying I managed to get through a whole Bachelor’s degree in English literature without ever reading any of it (save for Pride & Prejudice which I read, mostly, and was correct about). It’s unlikely, then, that I would ever bother sitting down to watch Jane  Eyre but I was attracted to it by a cast of Mia Wasikowska, Judi Dench, Jamie Bell and the unstoppable Michael Fassbender. Even more intriguing to me was the fact that the film was directed by Fukunaga, whose Sin Nombre (2009) was one of the absolute best films of that year. His earlier film about MS gang members and people attempting to emigrate illegally from Mexico into the U.S. on the tops of trains was galaxies away from Jane Eyre but he shows in both films a flare for tempestuous human relationships. The fact is, I really enjoyed this film and I learned that Jane Eyre is not Pride & Prejudice.

There’s no point in going into much detail about the plot, as I’m sure I’m one of a very tiny bunch of people who doesn’t already know the plot. Jane Eyre (Wasikowska) is an orphan, bright and passionate, left to live with her horrible aunt Mrs. Reed (Sally Hawkins). Jane is passed from home, to school, wherever and always unwanted until she takes work as a governess at the home of Mr. Rochester (Fassbender) where she is welcomed warmly by Mrs. Fairfax (Dench). Jane and Rochester develop a strange and alluring relationship, one made all the more unpredictable by their class-separation and the fact that each have reservations about intimacy and love because of their respective pasts. The story is not he light romantic fluff I was expecting and the social and emotional elements at play in the story are really quite intricate and fascinating.

The chemistry between Wasikowska and Fassbender is perfect; two characters drawn together despite their every effort to avoid it, played by actors who at times circle each other like animals and at other times cower like children. Wasikowska’s tiny frame and shotgun eyes provide the perfect carrier for this character who is endlessly assaulted by life but who never bends for any of it. Fassbender’s mix of fragility and intensity make Rochester a truly alarming and beguiling character.

Direction from Fukunaga is sharp and compelling, strong enough to snag me in a story I was actively trying to find boring. Through icy digital cinematography, Fukunaga creates a world that is almost an extension of Jane; Frigid, weather-battered stone exteriors that make the fires burning inside even more enticing. Fukunaga understands volatile relationships but he is keen to bare the thread of pain and tenderness inside as well. Jane Eyre is filled with an incredible passion, she just seems frigid and closed off because life has taught her that she has to be and Fukunaga never loses sight of that passion, even as Jane is quite literally slung against the tormenting cliffs of the English countryside.

I was completely sold on Jane Eyre because Fukunaga and his incredible cast make it exactly the thing I thought it wasn’t. Dark and compelling, Jane Eyre is much more of a Gothic tale  than I was prepared for and not at all the romantic froth I had been expecting. Driven performances and keen direction make this a film that surprised and compelled me despite my every effort to the contrary.

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