On March 10, 2011 I did a Q and A with Cary Fukunaga and Mia Wasikowska following the NBR screening of Jane Eyre. Much of the very civilized conversation centered on the value of realism – and how the specific rural English locations sealed the deal in terms of authenticity, especially Haddon Hall in Derbyshire as the Thornfield castle.
Jane Eyre, directed by Cary Fukunaga (Sin Nombre), is the first major film adaptation of Charlotte Bronte’s ubiquitous 1847 novel since Franco Zefferelli’s 1996 version starring Charlotte Gainsbourg as Jane and William Hurt as her benefactor/tormentor Rochester. Working with producers Alison Owen (Shaun of the Dead, The Other Boleyn Girl) and Paul Trijbits (Fish Tank) and money from BBC television, Fukunaga has made a film that has the look and feel of a classic yet takes some chances with the material that might risk the “can’t be too faithful to the source material” crowd. Faced with the seemingly impossible task of coming up with a definitive version of a book and story that nearly everyone seems to know (there have been over 25 film and TV adaptations so far) Fukunaga and his team have created a film that captures the spirit and look of the novel in a way that entertains and feels right.
Casting a classic is always difficult–if you’ve read the book you have already imagined the perfect manifestations of the central character–probably as people who are in many ways similar to yourself. A film like Jane Eyre, with so many versions already casting impressions on us, can create confusion before we even step into the theater. Ms. Eyre, a teenager in the bulk of the book, is often cast in the Hollywood tradition of the established star–an older successful “name.” Rochester, the mysterious and sometimes coarse man who owns the strange castle she ends up at, seems to be a particularly troubling role to get right. He should be handsome, but not a dandy, brooding but not really disturbed, with a mystery but not unable to appreciate beauty when he stares her in the face. Played by Orson Welles in the Hollywood 1940’s version (to Joan Fontaine’s too old Jane), he seemed a bit “Wellesian,” as though at any moment he might stand up tall and declare “I am Charles Foster Kane!”. William Hurt, in Zefferelli’s version felt a bit eclectic–filled with the same neurotic tics and hesitations we have come to expect from Hurt (History of Violence, for instance).