For awhile I thought Jane Austen was the only British author with any repute in the world of book to film adaptations. The Brontë sisters have certainly received their due in the past with prior filmic renderings of both Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights, but never with the same degree of exactitude as Austen-inspired gems like 2005's Pride and Prejudice. In Cary Fukunaga's (of Sin Nombre fame) sinister depiction of Charlotte Brontë's seminal novel, Mia Wasikowska plays the role of Jane Eyre to the perfect pitch of martyrdom and self-righteousness.
Considering the liberality with which both genders act in the twenty-first century, the struggle in watching Jane Eyre is derived from the frustration of observing how much restraint the title character puts on her emotions, as well as having a moral compass that is determinately non-existent in the current epoch. Michael Fassbender (the dishy German officer who incorrectly holds up three fingers in Inglourious Basterds) embodies the inhibited, yet brazen nature of Edward Rochester, the wealthy owner of a country estate where Jane goes to act as governess to a young French orphan named Adele.
As it becomes clearer that Rochester is smitten with the intelligence and unlikely perspicuity of Jane, he especially cannot deny his attraction to her when she saves him from a fire (set by a mysterious presence in the house), after which she tries to maintain her air of detachment--a move that Rochester will not stand for as he implores of her, "You saved my life. Do not treat me as a stranger."
For anyone who has read the novel (and perhaps it is presumptuous to assume that it is common reading material at this juncture), you already know that the "mysterious presence" responsible for setting the fire is Rochester's wife, a woman driven to madness and whom Rochester keeps locked away in his own home rather than condemning her to the fate of a nineteenth century mental institution. This, of course, is a fact that reveals itself to Jane before she is married to Rochester, tinging her emotions for him with resentment. Although Rochester begs her to stay, to ignore the existence of his husk of a wife, Jane's intense sense of morality sends her on a journey to an outlying town where she strikes up a relationship with a minister called Saint John Rivers (the oh so promising Jamie Bell).
For those who are unfamiliar with the novel, it would seem that Jane's departure will result in Rochester's mental undoing. But, surprisingly, Brontë spares her reader from a tragic ending, which I guess is only surprising considering the cruel fate of Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights (Emily was obviously the more pessimistic of the literarily inclined sisters). This makes things much easier for screenwriter Moira Buffini to appease viewers once they learn that Rochester has been blinded in a fire (because Jane wasn't there to prevent the aftermath of his wife's pyromaniacal ways) since, invariably, Jane cannot resist the pull she feels toward Rochester, ultimately returning to him. And now, being that his wife jumped off the roof during the fire, there is no issue with upholding virtuosity any longer.
Another perk of Jane Eyre's most recent film representation is the presence of Dame Judi Dench (just as Gerard Depardieu must be in all French movies, so, too, must Dench be in all British movies). Her performance as Mrs. Fairfax is one of the more humorous aspects of an otherwise darkly tinctured love story. Filmgoers will be content in knowing, however, that despite Rochester's blindness, he recognizes Jane's face almost instantly, taking her in his arms and uttering, "I feel as though I'm in a dream." Jane, ever the queen of quips, replies, "Then awaken."