Monday, May 9, 2011

Oh, Rochester!

 You cannot be a dedicated fan of Jane Eyre without being dedicated fan of the man that comes along with her. Of course we all know who I'm speaking of, but in case you haven't caught on yet, that man is Edward Fairfax Rochester.

Mr. Rochester is the enigmatic, dark, brooding man whose heart is captured by Jane. He's moody and sarcastic. He's bipolar. He's arrogant at times. He's self pitying and overdramatic. However, he's also one of the most beloved male heroes of literature. He has this horrid array of flaws and yet he wins Jane's heart all the same because his passion, romance, and intelligence counterbalance his obvious defects. We love Rochester for his humanity. He is a man of a thousand different complexities that can be analyzed almost a thousand different ways depending on the eyes reading the page.

So how do you then find the man to portray him in a movie? Today I've collected images of the Rochesters from every Jane Eyre adaptation I've seen and will seek to compare them, analyzing their positives and negatives and hoping to come to some conclusion as to who I think is the best Rochester.

*sigh* goes.

Jane Eyre 1944: Orson Welles
Positives: Maybe its the black and white-ness of the film that makes Orson Welles seem so very intimidating, but I like it. Welles had a voice that was commanding. The deep undercurrents of his lines really asserted a true sense of control. He really brought out the "master" aspect of Rochester that I sometimes forget when watching other versions. At the same time, he was also able to bring a little sweetness to his portrayal. Some say that he's the best Rochester, even though I don't personally agree. He didn't do the character a discredit, however. As a whole, I was pleased with him.

Negatives: The movie was made in 1944. Even though I do enjoy a good black and white movie (Gary Cooper, Gregory Peck, Laurence Olivier, Charlton Heston are all favorites of mine), it's still safe to say that though those kind of movies are a lost art form, they are also dramatically overracted and very melodramatic. You can't turn to Orson to give a modern, more natural portrayal of a Rochester that we can relate to in this day and age. He turned in a great performance for that time period, but that was THAT time period.

Jane Eyre 1949: Charlton Heston

Positive: He's Charlton Heston! I think that's pretty much it for positives. Actually, wait. He has a strong voice too. Ok, NOW that's it for positives.
Negative: Oh gosh, there's a list of negatives. #1: He's good looking!! Too good looking. #2: American accent. They didn't even bother to make the characters go for the British accent. However, it WAS made for TV so I dont think anyone really cared. #3: Yea...waayyyy too overacted, even for the time period. I would skip this version altogether.

Jane Eyre 1970: George C. Scott

Positives: I must say, I was pleasantly surprised by Scott's performance in this movie. I was expecting it to be hideous. As a whole, it wasn't very good, but he had tiny moments of greatness. These particularly came in the scene before Jane leaves Thornfield. He's a rugged man, and that type of ruggedness is something that I always fancied Rochester having. There is a knowing and experienced edge to him that I might even venture to label "worn".
Negatives: Too old. Let me make this fact clear now. Jane Eyre is eighteen. Rochester (on numerous occasions) pronounces himself ALMOST twenty years her senior. What is eighteen plus twenty? Thirty eight. Add the "almost" to that equation and you get this sum...Rochester was AT MOST thirty-eight, maybe thirty-nine to benefit the actor. George C. Scott doesn't fit that category. It adds to the "experience" factor of Rochester, but not to anything else.

Jane Eyre 1973: Michael Jayston

Positive: Jayston brought a more tender take to Rochester. He made him more likeable than other versions and he kind of fits the description of the "grim mouthed" Rochester, minus the sandy colored hair. He kind of brought out Rochester's weirdness. Sometimes Rochester strikes me as kind of a creep because he's so forward and intense when people of that time were mostly reserved. With Jayston playing him, I could see how Jane might be a little hesitant and uncertain about him at first.
Negative: Jayston doesn't really fit the physical build of Rochester to me. I mean, he was described as "athletic" and I just didnt get that from Michael. He also didn't dwell enough on Rochester's brooding side. In fact, he almost laid it down by the riverside. I never saw those "dark thoughts" casting a shadow over his face. He also didn't have the voice for me. As a whole, I still thought he made a presentable Rochester.

Jane Eyre 1983: Timothy Dalton

Positive: Timothy Dalton was a GREAT Rochester. Physically, he was very tall and intimidating across from the girl who played Jane (she wasn't very good). He had the "raven black" hair described in the novel as well as the grim mouth, the athletic figure, and the dark eyes. He played Rochester as both moody, loving, and eccentric. He also played up the mystery of him. With Dalton playing him, we never really understand what Rochester is thinking. He laughs at himself and seems to have this knowingness about him.
Negative: He's gorgeous! He's probably the most handsome Rochester to grace the screen. That's not exactly something that works in his favor in Jane Eyre. He's also highly melodramatic and sometimes downright cheesy. I understand that Rochester is kind of bipolar, but the way Dalton portrayed him it sometimes seemed like he was throwing grown-man temper tantrums. He also didn't have a very good Jane to work with.

Jane Eyre 1996: William Hurt

Positive: Ok, Hurt managed to highlight the depressed side of Rochester. He always had this wistful sadness about him that kind of reminded me that Rochester was in a place where he felt hopeless. He also came across as oddly tender, even though you had to catch it at certain moments.
Negative: He had no chemistry with Charlotte Gainsbourg. The scene where he says "and so you are" during the proposal, he basically just laid his nose on her face instead of kissing her. He also didn't seem forceful and violent enough to be Rochester. Oh, and he too was too old. Does he look almost thirty eight to you?

Jane Eyre 1997: Ciaran Hinds

Positive: Well, he deffinitely brought the "forcefulness" that was missing in William Hurt. He was deffinitely moody and in some ways fit the physical description. He had very nice eyes.
Negative: He wore the same expression seen above throughout the WHOLE movie until the tail end. I didn't like Ciaran Hinds in this adaptation at all because he brought out Rochester's moodiness a bit too much, to the point that I almost forgot that Rochester even had a good side. He's always yelling at Jane instead of conversing with her. He also came across as self-centered and whiny. He was one of my least favorite Rochesters and it was kind of a shame because Samantha Morton wasn't that bad of a Jane. He took away from HER performance. Oh, and this wins the award for the WORST kissing scene I've ever seen. It was like he was trying to gobble up Jane's face!

Jane Eyre 2006: Toby Stephens

Positive: Physically, he was great. This is the Rochester that appealed more to a younger audience because Toby really made Rochester a very sensual character. He made me realize that Rochester was looking for emotional as well as physical love. He showed Rochester's intensity by sometimes lapsing into deep reveries. Toby Mastered the art of being "pretty/ugly". He had this rugged uggliness about him, but from certain angles I saw what Jane saw in him. He was also the correct age, even though it may not seem like it. I think the problem there was that Ruth Wilson didn't look eighteen. Not his fault.
Negative: The negatives Toby had were not really his fault. The script gave him little to work with and stripped down the novel to almost nothing. I would have loved to see Toby delivering some of the best lines from the book. As a whole, Toby handed in a very solid performance and was the best "all around" Rochester. He brought Rochester's physicality, emotions, and intelligence to the screen. I thought that Toby was the best Rochester until...

Jane Eyre 2011: Michael Fassbender

Positive: To me, Michael did the best job of captivating the essence of Rochester. He had all the components that my mental Rochester possessed. I loved a particular scene in the movie where he was playing around on the piano and Fairfax comes up to him with a cup of tea and without even turning around he just snaps at her and says "KEEP IT!" He convincingly portrayed that sarcasm that Rochester had an abundance of. He was physically AND emotionally forceful. During the scene when Jane leaves, he actually edges on passionate violence when he takes her neck in his hands. He makes it obvious that Rochester physically overpowers her. His expression of passion is also deeply intense. There were so many expressions and mannerisms Michael portrayed that had me thinking "that is sooo Rochester."
Negative: He is deffinitely toooo handsome to be Rochester. Do you see that picture? Even with him being a bit uglied up for the role (complete with muttonchops and later on a beard), his sex appeal still shined through. You are NOT supposed to be swooning every time you see Rochester on the screen, which is what exactly what I was doing. It's such a shame because that was his only downside! He would have been absolutely perfect had it not been for the fact that he's sexy. Still, Fassbender was my favorite Rochester.

Overall, every Rochester brought something different to the table. I think the "real" Rochester had a combination of all these elements. Is there a perfect Rochester? I don't think so. If I could choose the "best" one, it would have to be almost a three way tie between Timothy Dalton, Toby Stephens, and Michael Fassbender. Sadly, the perfect Rochester lives only in my mind. But for future reference, if anyone is thinking of making another adaption, I would want to try casting Richard Armitage. :)


  1. I had no idea Charlton Heston played Rochester in a made-for-TV Jane! How funny!

    Great post - I need to revisit some of these versions!

  2. Neither did I! But wow, he is someone else I had a major crush on when I was young - especially in "The Greatest Show on Earth". I have to admit that my obsession with Jane Eyre centered on the book and the Timothy Dalton version. I had no idea there were so many other versions! Thank you, now that's what I'm going to be doing all summer... Great breakdown though! And I don't think it should be your last post on Jane Eyre either... :)

  3. First, thank you so much for your comment! I was so excited to get it, and then when I came to your blog I nearly died of happiness because you feel as I do about this movie!

    My issues with the movies, since there are so many, are weird because I've seen almost all of them and felt lukewarm and even downright MEH about most of them :p I saw the 1944 version when I was about 6, and oh my goodness, it has frightened me for life. I kind of, well I feel awkward about this, I kind of hated almost every other version of it, so I was a bit skeptical when this came around.

    THE THING IS, the two scenes you outlined in the most recent version are two of my favorites! I saw it most recently with some friends, and I was trying to explain myself, and they just didn't get it. He is so irritated and grumpy with his skulking by the piano, his inexplicably harsh 'keep it', so perfect!

    And the leaving scene almost killed me. I don't know, it's just, ugh. You can really see how badly they're both fighting against each other and themselves.

    I excuse the good looking Rochester's by justifying that we're supposed to feel about him the way Jane does, so who cares a bit if he's good looking!

    What I mean to say is, in your other post about all the movies, and here, and several, I feel the same!

  4. @Ruth: I would definitely recommend going through them again. I've watched each one more than once...actually more than twice lol. Each time I find something different that I like or dislike.

    @Rachel: Most likely this ISN'T going to be my last post because sometimes I just can't contain my enthusiasm for the book. I actually stumbled upon all these versions on a boring summer's day with nothing else to do and ended up spending the whole day watching them. There's also one way back from 1934 but it's so horrible that it was more like a spoof than an adaption.

    @Kater: Word's can't explain how excited I was when I read your post! People thought I was crazy because I went to see the movie three times (and plan on going to see it a fourth) but it was just so good! The "keep it" scene had "Rochester" written all over it for me...and the part where he says "precisely, that's how she charmed my english money out of my english pocket" lol. He has this sarcastic broodiness that nails Rochester spot-on. The great thing about him though is that he doesn't dwell on JUST the brooding side of Rochester. He brings versatility because he had that subtle vulnerability. The leaving scene had me in tears. Both of them nailed every expression, movement, and tone. Gosh...Anyway, enough of my rambling lol. Words can't explain how glad I am that you like the post and agree with me.

  5. Oh everyone thinks I'm nuts for seeing it multiple times! I do it with many movies, but honestly I haven't in a while, and I don't see why we shouldn't. There is nothing wrong with watching movies over and over!

    I agree, there is that change in him that seems almost comical, but it's something he yearns for throughout the entire book, before you get there anyway, and it's something he does do in the text.

    Have you seen these: ? There are a few behind-the-scenes videos, although it doesn't seem that there is any audio to go with it, they're quite nice. It's something to get us through to the DVD release anyway!

  6. Those videos are great. There's also a new trailer that was just released for the UK yesterday. It's quite different from the American trailer so I found myself watching it once or twice...or three times...

  7. GREAT comparison of all the "Rochesters"! Put them all together and you 'almost' have him, although he's still "not there". He'd be a hard one to cast and I almost think you'd have to have an unknown to do it properly. Only a group of true Rochester fanatics could cast him perfectly, in my opinion.

  8. That seems to be the problem with adapting Jane Eyre to the screen. There are so many fans that have different perceptions of how Rochester should be and they get VERY protective over their mental image of him. It's almost impossible to cast him in a way that would please everyone. But you're right. Each of these Rochesters have an element of Rochester that stands out above the rest, but none of them have all the elements in complete unity. *sigh*

  9. Great post! I have to weigh in on this, cannot resist. Jane Eyre was the first adult novel I read as a 12-year-old, and I still remember reading it late into the summer night and sobbing out loud...what an amazing book. I am 50+ so the George C. Scott version was the one I saw first, in the 70s...being so young, I didn't judge his physical appearance in terms of age. Twenty years older? They often exaggerated facts, one way or the other. Scott embodied Rochester's character for me. Rugged, not handsome,, it was not a perfect performance, but I always picture Scott as Rochester, when I think of it....Rochester CANNOT be handsome, young, or anything other than repulsively attractive and attractive only AFTER you find out he loves Jane. He had a lot of mileage on him, what with the carousing about Europe, consorting with the outer edges of French society and escaping the sordid past. Certainly Susanna York's acting was fine as Jane, but she did seem to old for the part. And William Hurt was an utter travesty. He should have been cast as the milque toast St. John....Ciaran Hinds had the best LOOKS for Rochester, if only he were OLDER. Such a disappointing group of films, one way and another, for one reason or another....I suppose we will just have to wait for the definitive version!

  10. I do like the '70 version as a whole, and I did like George C. Scott as Rochester. He just wasn't the best. I am a sucker for authenticity; especially when it comes to age. Rochester was no more than thirty-eight years old, and to see someone older than that playing him takes away from the reality of the actual novel.

  11. I hated the Orson Welles version I'm afraid, they didn't even try to stick to the story--tooo much artistic licence there all together!! I concur Dalton, Stevens and Fassbender are the best and rolled into one wowwwwwww Charlotte's description though always leaves me with a sense of this rugged sexiness, not neccesarily hunky good looking, but raw and strong, I thought these 3 portrayed that really well because they are classicly "beautiful" men, drop dead gorgeous for me but many a girl would rather have Tom Hanks or Mel Gibson or one of the cat walk models, those men who have that classical beuty that our Rochesters haven't got. I must admit I haven't seen Charlton Heston as Rochester, neither do I particularly want to--he's just not Rochester! I did like William Hurt, but yes he was too old and brooding and again far too much artistic licence was taken in the changing of the story--miss things out if they must but why change the story? Toby and Tim I suppose are my favoutites of all time and the adaptations of the story were pretty faithful too. As for Michaels beard---YUKKKKKKKKKKKKKKK

  12. All those guys! How to choose? It's better than a box of chocolates! Scott gave an excellent interpretation to the role. Dalton was over the top. Hurt and Jayston were OK - in fact, I was very impressed with Jayston in the church scene where he hears the footsteps of doom. Hinds had that nasty mustache - ewww! I think it was worse than Fassbander's beard. Toby made me swoon with that bed scene - ahhhh! Yum yum yummy!

  13. Toby the best ROCHESTER

  14. Toby Stephens is fantastic as Edward Fairfax Rochester. Toby played Rochester with the right amount of darkness, humor and tenderness as was just right for the character. Toby also looked right to play Rochester as well. I also love the chemistry between Ruth & Toby! x

  15. I've seen only the Samantha Morton/Ciaran Hinds and the Mia Wasikowska/Michael Fassbender versions, and though the latter is absolutely gorgeous as a film, I found it devoid of the gruff playfulness that I so enjoy in the banter between Jane and Rochester. Rochester, to me, is quite the drama queen, with big emotions and a penchant for melodramatic flourishes. The man, after all, went so far as to dress himself up as a gypsy fortuneteller in hopes of getting Jane to divulge her feelings for him. What a riot.

    Unfortunately, in Cary Fukunaga's verision, Michael Fassbender was all moody intensity and Mia was much too prettied up to be plain Jane. I actually adore the Morton/Hinds version precisely because it captured the gruff banter and rough passion between the two. He barked, teased, bellowed, yet was coy. Yes, that coyness was missing in the Cary Fukunaga adaptation. And that Ciaran Hinds is unconventionally and ruggedly handsome certainly helped. Michael Fassbender? Much too gorgeous, even pretty.

    As for the kiss scene you found so unappealing, I was actually stumped because I didn't remember such a scene, then realized why the disconnect. The Hinds/Morton version chose to present that scene not as a kiss but as a consummation of their desire, which I found so perfect in so many ways. For one thing, Rochester does nearly consume Jane (and would have had his plan succeeded). She too wants to be consumed by such passions, so that they are far from pretty together. Certainly not tender. The Hinds/Morton version deftly depicted the passionate abandon in this Victorian novel, all whilst remaining a family-safe television adaptation. I didn't catch the innuendos when I was younger, but I was quite shocked when I saw this adaptation again but as an adult. So hope that sheds a different light on the Hinds/Morton adaptation.

  16. @Echo: First off, welcome to the blog. I don't believe I've seen you around before and I'm already loving how you have so much to offer. :)

    I think you're one of the first representatives of the 1997 adaptation that's dropped by. Most people who comment are either fans of the '83, '06, or '11. As you can tell, I'm kind of harsh when it comes to the '97 because of Ciaran Hinds' portrayal. I must admit that I'm kind of a stickler for accuracy in some aspects and the '97 had too many gaps for me to ever really warm up to it, but at the same time I can easily see how fans like you are attached to it.

    Morton's performance was absolutely stunning. She was one of my favorite Janes, in fact. As for Hinds, I think he was too old for the part and the way he approached Rochester just wasn't what I personally had imagined. I think if I was to choose the perfect image of my mental Rochester, he'd look nothing like Hinds. Grant it, he wouldn't look like the fair, green eyed Fassbender either, I must admit.

    As for your analysis of the kiss, I loved reading it. I've never really looked at it that way before. I'm glad you've stopped by and I'd love to see you around more! Feel free to comment on anything else. :)

  17. Fassbender was an amazing Rochester...but I agree on the fact that he was way too sexy lol.

  18. Timothy Dalton all the way... It's true that "He also didn't have a very good Jane to work with."