Jane Eyre

on February 03, 1944 by Christine James
   After the recent releases "Sense and Sensibility" and "Mary Reilly," this adaptation of Charlotte Bronte's classic novel "Jane Eyre" arrives seeming a tad too thematically familiar. All three are set in the United Kingdom in the 19th century and deal with a poor woman and a wealthy man falling in love but being unable to reveal their feelings due to the social stigma. It's not really an obstacle modern-day audiences can identify with. Given the caliber of scandal we're accustomed to, who could muster the energy to raise an eyebrow when Liz Taylor married a construction worker, for example?
   The film opens with "The Piano's" Anna Paquin as young Jane Eyre, a strong-willed, outspoken but sensitive orphan raised by hateful relatives. She's soon off to Lowood, a strict girls' school where a fire-and-brimstone headmaster ("Shadowlands'" John Wood) completes Jane's darkly Dickensian upbringing. Amid the daily drudgery, Jane befriends schoolmate Helen Burns (Leanne Rowe) and teacher Miss Temple ("Persuasion's" Amanda Root), both of whom show Jane kindness and stress the importance of faith, education and independence. Helen's untimely death catalyzes Jane to work hard and trust in God in the hope of a better existence post-mortem.
   Later, after serving as a teacher at Lowood, the adult Jane (now portrayed by "The Cement Garden's" Charlotte Gains-bourg) accepts employment as a governess in a large mansion, where her young charge, Adele (a winning Josephine Serre), is a delight, her co-workers are kind and her living conditions are vastly improved. All is well until the master of the house returns from travels abroad; drawn to brusque yet intensely compelling Edward Rochester (William Hurt), she never presumes beyond what her station permits. Just when she sees her feelings are reciprocated, her hopes are dashed by Rochester's involvement with the beautiful but shallow Blanche Ingram ("If Lucy Fell's" Elle Macpherson). What's more, Rochester has a dark secret, the likes of which Jane can't even guess. The frustrating element of "Jane Eyre," and of "Sense and Sensibility," "Mary Reilly" and many stories in the genre, is that all the fuss could be fixed by simple communication. Also, the reasons for the overwhelming attraction between Jane and Rochester are inadequately illustrat-ed, mostly due to the abridging that also cuts many philosophical exchanges between Jane and Helen which in the book exemplified Jane's striking intelligence. More first-person voiceovers would have helped flesh Jane out without significantly increasing the running time. Still, this well-intentioned adaptation has strong performances all around, including Joan Plowright as the kind and fluttery Mrs. Fairfax. Starring Charlotte Gainsbourg, William Hurt, Anna Paquin and Joan Plowright. Directed by Franco Zeffirelli. Written by Franco Zeffirelli and Hugh Whitemore. Produced by Dyson Lovell. A Miramax release. Drama/romance. Rated PG for thematic elements and brief violence. Running time: 110 min
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