I’ve harped on this elsewhere in the past, but I firmly believe that an adaptation of Jane Eyre rises or falls on the strength of its Rochester. It’s not that Jane isn’t a great, complicated character. It’s more that there’s absolutely no way you can dislike her. She’s one of the greatest literary heroines we have. Nobody sitting in that audience is going to have a hard time rooting for Jane.
Rochester, on the other hand. Kind of an asshole, right? No, no, not entirely. I’m not saying I don’t love Mr. Rochester. Of course I love him. But I do have to be brought around to loving him. Come on, the guy keeps his wife locked in the attic. Whatever the circumstances, you can’t just let that go with nary a raised eyebrow, you know?
For viewers to fully appreciate Jane’s struggles, sympathize with her, and ultimately nod in teary delight at the point of reader-I-married-him, versus screaming “YOU DID WHAT?” and throwing the popcorn, they have to be able to see what she sees in the man. While Jane is busy declaring herself his equal, the rest of us are wondering if he’s really good enough for her. If your Rochester can’t pull it off, even a flawlessly played Jane isn’t going to save that film.
This is why I’m not surprised that the Wasikowska/Fassbender version of Jane Eyre won the September poll by a landslide, with 56% of the vote. Michael Fassbender, please don’t take this the wrong way, because I know nothing about you personally and I’m sure you’re a nice person, but you’re a very convincing asshole. You can probably blame Cary Fukunaga for that if you want, because this is an expertly directed film. There’s no shying away from the darker sides of Rochester’s character, but it’s mixed with the exact right combination of vulnerability, sympathy, and emotion (and, because this is Rochester we’re talking about, brooding) to make the whole thing work. Plus, regardless of everything I just said about the cruciality of Rochester, Mia Wasikowska delivers a really excellent performance as Jane.
I was glad to see the Wilson/Stephens version come in second place with 22% of the vote, because I quite like that one, too. It’s a different spin, to be sure. Neither character is really dark and broody enough, and Toby Stephens’s only flaw here is that he’s just a bit too likable. But the performances are very good, and the chemistry as well, so it all works anyway. And of course the beauty of the miniseries format is that there’s more time to get in more of the book. Everything benefits from the highest possible amount of Brontë.
The October poll is up, be sure to cast your votes!
The post title is not terribly relevant, except that it’s one of the best Jane Eyre quotes, and probably appropriate for my blog. Or my epitaph.