Friday, June 24, 2011

Jane Eyre 1970 Review

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.

Comments, anyone?


  1. I have seen several versions of Jane Eyre and this one, in spite of some silly dialogue that had nothing to do with the book and sometimes poor production values, I have ranked number 3. I was surprised by Scott's performance. I think you may be correct that he may have played Rochester too softly. Even though York was too old to play Jane, she did a very good job. Over all, its a pleasant movie to watch.

  2. I ranked this third as well, even though technically it should be fourth. The 'll and '06 were a dead tie, so I ranked them both as first and then the 1983 under them. Something about this movie was very endearing, though it didn't necessarily stick true to the source material. One downside that I grasped was that it was very "American." While watching it, I forgot that the setting was even in England. I couldn't even really distinguish their accents that well. Those things took away from the authenticity. Still, I just can't put my finger on what I found enjoyable about it.

  3. This adaptation really doesn't work for me. Jane is too pretty, the settings look wrong, as do the clothes and when Rochester showed up on screen, my first thought was of Scrooge. (Later, I found out that Scott actually HAD played Scrooge a few years before he died!) I much prefer the BBC version that came a few years after this one, with Sorcha Cusack and Michael Jayston. :) Other versions might be better, but if we're comparing those from the '70s, this has got NOTHING on the other one!

  4. I could very easily understand why it wouldn't work for some people. All the details surrounding the central plot were completely disregarded. I forgave that though because it WAS made in the '70s for TV. It was most likely low budget and couldn't afford to give a really faithful take on the novel. I could never name it my favorite adaption and can only watch it at certain times. As for the 1973, I didn't like it much either. Sorcha Cusack just wasn't a good Jane for me. I still find it enjoyable sometimes though. The only two adaptions that I love ALL the time are the '06 and the '11.

  5. I've seen many filmed versions of this great novel, and , after all these years of viewing,
    I find the Susannah York/George C. Scott version the most deeply moving..
    Dear friends, I agree with you: there are many flaws in this version: too many
    omissions of important scenes, somemiscasting ( Ian Bannen is wrong for St-John),
    technical problems. Yesm York and Scott are technically "too old". But that works in
    their favor here, since their acting is rich and sensitive ( I find some--not all-- of the
    younger actors too inexperienced to convey either suffering or sexual passion). This director creates an atmosphere of surprising, subtle empathy for most of the characters:
    I've never seen the madwoman ( Jean Marsh) like this: not monstrous, but still human
    and almost beautiful. Mr. Fairfax here is a wise, compassionate friend to the lovers.
    And Jane's playing of the main melody on the piano is stunning-- it's better here
    than the novel. Finally, Jane's reunion with Rochester is very simple and moving.
    I hope this will persuade you to look--and listen--to this version again.

    Mrs. Fairfax (Rachel Kempson) is extremely tender and intelligent. And Jane's playing
    of the main melody at the piano transforms the scene--it's better than the novel here.

    1. I actually completely agree with you, Melanie. I wrote this review a long time ago, and my opinion of this adaptation has changed since then. This is now one of my favorite adaptations, and if you read some of my other posts ranking the different adaptations, you'll see that I tend to consistently put this one near the top.

    2. I am glad you changed your mind about his adaptation. I was 14 when I read Jane Eyre, and then that year(1970) saw this adaptation. I decided to watch it recently to see how it held up. I think the performance of Scott was wonderful as Rochester. York is good as well, and the chemistry between them is felt. They are both old for the roles but I still think this version holds up - mostly due to Scott. The writing was good in this version as well. And - Rochester does say, "do you find me handsome?" Because it was the first version I saw, I have always pictured Rochester a bit like George C Scott. I really liked the Ruth Wilson and Toby Stephens version in 2006. Both actors are wonderful.

    3. I want to add that the John Williams score really is masterful and adds to this version so much.

  6. I first read Jayne Eyre when I was 15 years old. It affected me profoundly and in some ways it was sort of a"bible" for taught me invaluable things about myself and I read and reread it during a period is self discovery in my twenty's. I have seen every version of Jane Eyre and what surprises me is with the exception of this s one, they all leave me cold primarily because film makers never seem to get the off the chart chemistry that exists between Jane and Rochester in the novel. But in version, I feel the love. I think George Scott i's incredible as Rochester and Susannah York is excellent. A lot of critics thought York was to pretty to play Jane but i didnt find that her good looks hurt the story or detracted from the characters essence at all. Other than the orson wells version , which I remember because I've seen it a few times, despite the fact I don't like it, this is the only one I remember and in a good way. It impressed me and I'd love to see it again.

  7. I am a big fan of the novel and have seen many adaptations. I am probably the most familiar with Orson Welles and Joan Fontaine. So I tried to watch this version and the moment I saw Susannah York I got really mad and turned it of!! haha. I just thought "oh my goodness, she's about 35 and stunning!" That is SO not Jane Eyre. I was a little insulted really, I shall just blame that on my fine sensibilities:):) So I am trying to watch it again tonight and after reading your reviews, I am ready to give it another try. I think I just need to look at the film with a more open mind. Thanks all!

  8. I have to say that the music also plays a huge part in this movie for me. I loved this version, with its flaws, much more than many of the newer ones. I think perhaps because I saw this when it first came out, long before the others that I enjoy it more.

  9. I remember this movie from my youth; it came out when I was about 11; we have to realize that in the 70s America media, TV, advertising, etc., and society overall was very innocent compared to today's US. This movie was aimed at an audience that would not have necessarily read the book but would love a love story. This came off very well for Scott and York. The countryside, the outdoors, the scale of the countryside, etc., played very well for this movie. The ending is what I remembered a great deal, her sitting by him..." Let me stay." The music is beautiful, and certainly a Biblical/Godly Jane turned this man's life around, and hers. Hope is a main theme.