(M) Mia Wasikowska, Michael Fassbender, Jamie Bell

This is Bronte’s grand gothic novel, set in moors rolling with mist and dark castles that hide dark secrets. Unlike Austen’s romantic tomes, Bronte’s Jane Eyre is a tale of woe you wouldn’t wish on even your most reviled family member. And it has also been the subject of many a movie and television adaptation, some better than others.

This story full of melodrama, dark-tempered gentlemen and frosty family connections is also a story full of redemption and even, one may suggest, faith and hope against the odds.

Jane Eyre was royally dealt the wrong end of the stick.

As the film begins, Jane (Wasikowska) is escaping through the moors from Thornfield Hall. Those who aren’t familiar with the story will not know from whence she is running until the films last third, when the narrative neatly loops back on itself to outline Eyre’s plight at the hands of Edward Fairfax Rochester (Fassbender).

Rescued by St John Rivers (Bell) and his sisters, Eyre is given a job as a local school teacher. It’s here, in a place of isolation and reflection, that the film flashes back to Jane’s childhood where she is cast out of the house by her aunt and sent to Lowood, a girl’s school where she is taught the “right” way to act through violence and cruelty.

Despite her mistreatment she grows to maturity with reserve and an austerity and intelligence beyond her years, and is seemingly not bitter for the hand life has dealt her.

After the dismal Lowood, she is called upon to serve as governess for Rochester. What begins as a friendship between the unpredictable Rochester and Eyre turns toward a budding romance, but this being a Gothic romance there are some secrets in store.

The beauty of this adaptation is in the way it is told. As the film flashes back and forth from her place of solace, we begin to understand Eyre’s character and motivation and Wasikowska’s pivotal performance doesn’t disappoint. As the novel has a lengthy introduction to Eyre’s childhood, telling the film in flashback serves to retain interest in the story but also to weave a mystery of sorts about how Eyre came into her present predicament. It also serves to chart her maturity as she grasps independence and real unconditional love. Simply and delicately unfolded, the characters of Eyre and Rochester are developed masterfully.

Wasikowska, who was such a blank canvas in Alice In Wonderland is the film’s revelation. Bronte often wrote about facial expression and mood and Wasikowska’s expressions convey the full gamut of emotions needed to travail Jane’s hard and abusive childhood and her blossoming independence and maturity. And Fessbender’s excellent performance as the steely Rochester is arrogant, fierce, measured and finally contrite, just as it should be — a formiddable character much more interesting than some of Austen’s romantic foils.

First-time director Cary Fukanaga’s beautifully shot adaptation of the novel captures all the highlights and avoids the melodrama that could have bogged it down.

The film’s final message of the refining fire of life and love is eloquently told and executed making this a must-see adaptation.

Adrian Drayton 

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