|'Fukunaga allows the film to settle into a chronological lull'|
Jane Eyre director Cary Fukunaga is possibly one of the most exciting young directors in Hollywood. This adaptation of Charlotte Brontë's novel is his second film and the follow-up to his 2009 debut, Sin Nombre, about a boy and a girl trying to escape different negative situations in South America. As film projects go you couldn't pick two more different ones than these and its unsurprising to hear that Fukunaga's next project looks set to be a Sci-Fi.
Fukunaga's decision to take on another adaptation of Jane Eyre (the twenty-second if a quick IMDb search is to be believed) is understandable given that the source material is in the public domain, therefore limiting the financial exposure to potential rights issues. Where his decision might be open to questioning though is in the fact that this isn't just a well-adapted property, it's also a well known one and a period one at that. With the constant slew of successful period TV serials showing no sign of stopping (Downton Abbey is just the latest in a long line), Fukunaga has got to show a lot of cinematic nous to convince the general public that this is worth a trip to the big screen for.
For Jane's opening twenty-five minutes or so, he seems to have this at the forefront of his thoughts. The film starts with Jane (Mia Wasikowska) leaving a stately home and crossing the moors to arrive at St John Rivers' (Jamie Bell) house, bedraggled and having apparently fled from some unspeakable horror. Fukunaga then spends the first third of the film playing with the chronology of the source material; one moment we are with a recovering Jane at the Rivers household, the next we are with a schoolgirl-aged Jane (Amelia Clarkson) dealing with a neglectful aunt (Sally Hawkins), or with a now-adult Jane arriving at Thornfield Hall. Fukunaga seems aware of the fact that he needs to do something different and this section - pleasantly off-kilter and confusing, always ready to catch you off guard - is by far the film's strongest.
Soon after this though, Fukunaga allows the film to settle into a chronological lull, apparently abandoning the idea of following different versions of Jane. At this point, Jane Eyre reverts to being more of less your standard period drama. Convention must be overcome by a series of characters, all of whom appear of a revolutionary mindset. Love must be conquered, via force, dedication or aforementioned revolution. Secrets must be outed, preferably by way of exploration via candlelight, down darkened halls where things occasionally go 'bump'. Frocks must be worn.
None of which points to Jane Eyre being a bad film. Fukunaga is exciting partially because of his visual skills, which here are exemplary. His cast too is about as good as it could be. Michael Fassbender (as Rochester) is imposing and magnificent. Wasikowska is by turns vulnerable and staid, and impressive at being both, often at the same time. Jamie Bell too, developing nicely as an actor now, fills an important role with believable commitment.
It proves to be a pleasant way to spend two hours but it's never anything more than that and it never realises the promise of its first third, which does the undoable and achieves something new and interesting within the confines of the period drama.
Jane Eyre is released in UK cinemas on Friday 9th September 2011.
'[it is] led by another surprisingly potent performance by Wasikowska. She plays Eyre with so many layers that even she seems unaware of them all at times' - Black Sheep Reviews, 4/5