There’s something you should know about me. Give me a miniseries adaption of a literary classic with beautiful costumes to watch and I will be a happy woman. I’ve been a bit of a miniseries junkie for as long as I can remember. I first got hooked on Anne of Green Gables and then the Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle Pride and Prejudice. I love seeing my favorite books as films. That is, unless they completely ruin them (Yes, Andrew Davies, I’m referring to your screenplay for the recent adaption of Brideshead that sends me into fits of fury.) Anyhow, I love me a good miniseries. I would wager there’s nary a worthwhile miniseries I haven’t seen. So, I am now passing on my expertise (derived from excessive period film watching/laziness) to you, dear reader.
I’ll be accompanied by Eleanor, my bestie, college/post-college housemate, and fellow lover of a good 8 hour BBC miniseries in the guise of Miniseries Mondays. To introduce you to Ellie, I should briefly explain our friendship. It might help to tell you that when Ellie and I were first acquainted, we went to eat Italian food together and by the time we were halfway done with our baked ziti we were singing Fiddler on the Roof songs. In public. Probably loud. Had we been introduced as young children, we would never have adapted to conversing with people who hadn’t memorized all of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. Anyhow, Eleanor and I will occasionally drop in with our two cents on our favorite or most loathed miniseries/period films. We won’t stick completely to miniseries, we’ll throw a few literary film adaptions in for good measure. And, we want to hear your thoughts, too! So, chime in in the combox.
For our inaugural post: Jane Eyre: Which Adaption Is Best? Charlotte Bronte’s best-loved work was one of the first classics I read as a little girl. I loved it and read it again and again. There are many, many adaptions of Jane Eyre, but we’d like to offer your our top three Jane picks: Franco Zeffirelli’s feature film starring William Hurt and Charlotte Gainsbourg (1996), Susanna White’s Masterpiece Theatre miniseries starring Toby Stephens and Ruth Wilson (2006), and Cary Fukanaga’s feature film starring Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender (2011)
Now, I dearly love all three, so it’s hard for me to pick a favorite. Let’s start with some categories.
Haley: Charlotte Gainsbourg is a great Jane. She’s plain, thin, and serious, but with a little uncomfortable smile that’s so endearing. They don’t do anything hair/makeup-wise to make her look more attractive as the film progresses, but by the end of the movie, I have always fallen in love with her strange little face. That seems just as it should be.
Ellie: Charlotte Gainsbourg is amazing. She is strange. For reals. If I have any probles with her it is that I don’t find her plain, I find her fascinating. She is so lovely in one of those “real women” kind of ways. If you knew her in real life, she would be the woman you wanted to look like when you grew up.
Haley: I think if I have a critique of Ruth Wilson it’s just that she’s so adorable, maybe TOO adorable to be Jane. And her darling cheeks are a little too plump to be as austere as Jane should be. The part is well-acted, I just can’t get over the cuteness.
Ellie: Agreed. I think Ruth Wilson is stunning. She has one of those faces that could be called classicly beautiful, just with a little bit of a duck mouth. Which, again, I think is amazingly humanizing and keeps her from being a terrible, untrustworthy vixen.
Haley: I really think Mia Wasikowska is the perfect Jane. Plain, little, fierce. I love her.
Ellie: Again, agreed. Totally.
Haley: William Hurt is a decent Rochester, but I don’t find him dark and unsettling enough to really portray ROCHESTER. His face is too kind.
Ellie: I think I agree here as well. I like the age difference between Hurt and Gainsbourg, and I like how very world weary Hurt appears. He has such a wonderfully craggy face. However, he doesn’t seem truly dark, just kind of morose.
Haley: I love Toby Stephens as Rochester, but I’m not sure if it’s because I’m biased because he’s the son of my beloved Dame Maggie Smith. I mean, can you imagine Maggie Smith being your mother?! I really enjoy the banter between Jane and Rochester in this miniseries.
Ellie: I am going to have to be honest, I think both Toby Stephens and Michael Fassbender are much, much too attractive to be Rochester. That said, Stephens’ Rochester is wonderfully clever, sharp, and bitter. This Rochester seem to believe that all his troubles are earned, and he is therefore beyond hope, which he finds darkly funny. It’s an incredibly attractive trait and you can see how Jane would fall in love with him.
Haley: Michael Fassbender, dark and unsettling, he is indeed. However, if I have a criticism, it would be that he’s a little too “smooth” to be Rochester. Slightly too dashing to play this rough, awkward man.
Ellie: Ugh! Fassbender! I love him. I think he is beautiful and therefore am completely conflicted whether to declare him to be completely unfit to be Rochester or the BEST ROCHESTER OF ALL TIME.
Haley: Although it probably has the best soundtrack of the bunch (beautiful!), the Gainsbourg/Hurt film takes a few liberties. It really condenses the plot between when Jane leaves Thornfield to when she returns. There’s no moor-wandering, only one Rivers sister, and not much development for St. John’s character. It also leaves out the Rochester-as-a-gypsy scene, which is a bummer.
Ellie: Totally agree. I saw this version before I read the book (I know!), and, though I liked it a lot, after reading the book it seems like almost a waste of a film. The story is so good! Why would you butcher it so? Also it seems to be just gloomy and dark (literally), rather than having beautiful swings in tone like to novel.
Haley: The Wilson/Stephens miniseries stays closer to the novel because it has the time to follow the plot. There is one dreadful “special effects” scene when the tree is struck by lightning that is just embarrassing.
Ellie: If there is a flaw in this version, it is a comparative one. This beautiful production can’t keep up with the others as far as budget and casting. Those poor special effects!
Haley: If I have a critique of the Wasikowka/Fassbender film it’s that there’s too MUCH moor-wandering (I know, I’m so picky). But seriously, there is a lot of moor-wandering.
Ellie: I have no critiques of this film. I love it. I love the hopeless loneliness of the moores. I love the wonderful non-linear story telling, and how well they manage to tell the whole story. Also, when we saw it in the theater, I was TERRIFIED. And I already knew what was going to happen!
The Best Jane Eyre?
Ellie: I think, through this experience, that I have decided that the 2011 adaptation is my favorite, and the most watchable. It is shorter than the 2006 version (though only by an hour), and does such a good job of including almost all of the story. Also, it has such an amazing cast. Judi Dench? Sally Hawkins? Jamie Bell? LOVE IT.
Haley: I have to agree. I love all three, but the 2011 version is my favorite. It’s filmed so beautifully that you almost feel like each frame is a painting, a work of art. Lots of candlelight. It’s just gorgeous.
What’s your favorite Jane Eyre adaption?