I pride myself on having seen all the existing adaptions of Jane Eyre. Well, at least all the existing adaptions in English. I tried to watch the Italian one with the subtitles and those types of things just don’t work out really well. Anyway, this naturally wasn’t my first time watching the 1970 TV version of Jane Eyre, nor will it probably be the last. As long as there is a cloudy day, I’m always going to be watching period dramas.
When I first stumbled upon this version about a year ago, I didn’t quite know what to make of it. Susannah York was in NO way the woman I had ever pictured as a “Jane” and George C. Scott was a just as surprising Rochester. After seeing him in Patton, it was kind of hard to imagine him anywhere other than standing in front of an American Flag, least of all in Mr. Rochester’s riding boots and muttonchops. With these two things in mind, I approached the 1970 Jane Eyre with a justifiable amount of skepticism.
I’ve since watched this version more than twice (because there are a LOT of cloudy days where I live) and still stick to the same conclusion. Susannah York is still not my idea of Jane and George C. Scott is still one of the last men that I would imagine playing Rochester. However, in the weirdest and indescribable of ways, they did their parts great justice and pulled out a pretty solid adaptation of the novel.
Like most Jane Eyre adaptions that have limited time to work with, the 1970 skimmed over much of Jane’s childhood. It didn’t do it as much as some other versions, but it wasn’t as detailed as the 1983. As a result, I didn’t pay much attention to it. Being as familiar with the book as I am, it didn’t really bother me because I fully comprehend the hardships that Jane had to go through without really seeing them. However, I do realize that for some Jane Eyre diehards, skimming over the Lowood section is a hideous disgrace. You can take it any way you want, but the point is that if you’re looking for detail about Jane’s early years, don’t expect to find it in this version.
So fast-forwarding through Jane’s abusive childhood, we come to the meat of the story where Susannah York pops in to play the (supposedly young) Jane Eyre and goes off to Thornfield. Susannah was thirty-one when she played the part. I don’t need to say much more for you to get the drift. Despite her age, however, Susannah played a highly independent and strong willed Jane. Her take on Jane is probably the strongest and most dominant one to grace the screen…ever. The problem with that dominance is that it makes her Jane a bit too outspoken. Jane is a very complex character to pull off because she is naturally passionate on the inside but has a rather girlishly quiet exterior.
What I loved about this version was the meeting scene. It’s the same as all the others, of course. Jane’s ambling along minding her own business and all of a sudden this man gallops by on a horse and falls. The thing about George C. Scott is that he makes it truly seem as if Rochester fell in love with Jane from the very beginning. The man has a rugged (and old) exterior, but he does know how to be soft on the eyes, and he shows the audience the minute the camera flashes to him.
Some actors choose to portray the relationship between Jane and Rochester as a progression. This approach is mostly taken in BBC miniseries adaptions where more time is offered. In TV or film versions, there’s less time to depict a slow progression, so most actors take the “love at first sight approach.” Personally, I like neither of those approaches, but the “love at first sight” thing works better for me. It’s NOT because I’m a hopeless romantic (even though I am) but because Rochester himself says in the novel that he felt a kinetic attraction to Jane the minute that he leaned on her when his ankle was hurt. However, I also acknowledge that he says that the immediate attraction did progress into passion.
Anyway, with little time to work with, the story progressed pretty fast. George C. Scott’s Rochester takes an immediate interest in Jane and I saw this childlike eagerness in him (despite Scott’s age) that longed to draw Jane out and constantly be in her company. The two leads actually have an admirable chemistry between them that I found pleasant to watch.
The only real problem with the chemistry between the leads was that Jane was the dominant figure in the relationship. Throughout the movie, she’s the one running and Rochester is the one chasing her. I always see Jane and Rochester’s relationship as a turbulent push and pull type of connection. One person isn’t always dominant. Of course, Rochester is dominant physically and economically, but he’s also rather dependent emotionally. Jane is playing “hard to get”, but she doesn’t even really seem to know that she’s playing it because Rochester is being manipulative and enigmatic. York and Scott didn’t delve into these complexities at all. Never once does this Rochester assert his physical or economic dominance the way the “real” Rochester does. Scott played a harsh and demanding general in Patton, but in Jane Eyre he was too gentle!
Basically, in so many words; Scott was too weak of a Rochester, and York was (I can’t believe I’m saying this) too strong of a Jane for this version to faithfully mirror the relationship in the novel. That is not to say that the relationship portrayed by George and Susannah wasn’t enjoyable, because it was extremely pleasant to watch. My eyes even fogged up during the proposal scene and Jane’s last night at Thornfield. It just wasn’t “Jane and Rochester.”
Despite the criticisms I’ve given, this version of Jane Eyre is still worth a watch if you haven’t seen it. Bertha’s discovery was carried out very well and served as a very good climax. Blanche Ingram is actually a brunette the way she’s supposed to be. The love story was a good one will make a few tears come to your eyes. All in all, it was a commendable adaption. Just don’t expect it to be your definitive version, because it’s not the type of adaption geared towards important details.