Edit May 16, 2018: For updated and added reviews and content, visit my new website Lit Lovers & Corset Laces.
We all know who Jane Eyre is and each reader knows what they love about her. This eighteen year old has barely even eclipsed womanhood and has already experienced pain and hopelessness. Yet, as her obstacles become increasingly challenging, Jane becomes all the more independent and sure of herself. She finds worth in herself when those around her either take advantage of it or don't see it at all.
Still, Jane longs for mutual love and passionate life. She is raw and inexperienced in the ways of the world and throughout the novel we see her discover emotions and sensations that she's never come in contact with before. This girl is the center and cornerstone of the story. She functions as the protagonist, the damsel in distress, the hero, AND the narrator all in one. If Jane is miscasted, the movie or miniseries is doomed before you even press play.
So, just as I did in "Oh, Rochester", I've collected images of the Janes from every version I've seen and will give my personal opinions of each. Casting is often a touchy subject when a book is adapted to the screen because each reader possesses a different opinion. I will give mine without hesitation. Whether you agree or disagree with my analysis, I would still love to see your comments!
So here we go!
Jane Eyre 1944: Joan Fontaine
Negative: We see the uncertainty in Joan's performance, but very little else. In this version, Jane strikes me as WAY too dependent. We don't see the indignant side of Jane that helps establish her as Rochester's equal. Joan didn't infuse any independence in her portrayal at all. Even during the proposal scene where Jane is supposed to come forth and demand that Rochester treat her with respect, Joan isn't demanding. She didn't have the "hero" quality of Jane, only the "damsel in distress." She also isn't young or plain enough to convincingly portray Jane's exterior.
Jane Eyre 1949: Mary Sinclair
Negative: Just like her "Rochester" counterpart, Charlton Heston, there are a list of things wrong with Mary Sinclair. The first and most noticeable is that she was simply too old. Jane is eighteen. Unlike Rochester where you might have to calculate his age because it isn't specifically mentioned, Jane's age is given plain and clear in the text of the novel, so there is really no excuse. Mary also hideously downplayed Jane's inner strength and natural confidence. She made Jane seem timid and afraid, and thus disgraced the character for me.
Jane Eyre 1979: Susannah York
Negative: TOO OLD! This version as a whole threw the true ages of the character out the window. George C. Scott was much too old to play the thirty-eightish year old Rochester. Susannah was thirty one years old when she played this part, which surprised me when I did the research because she looked even older than that!
Jane Eyre 1973: Sorcha Cusack
Negative: Sorcha was twenty four years old when she pulled her hair into Jane Eyre's signature knot. That's not nearly as bad as Susannah York, who missed Jane's age by more than ten years, but still it wasn't convincing enough. Jane's age is really important to me as a reader because I can't fully appreciate her journey into womanhood unless she really looks like the teenager that she was in the novel. I also found Sorcha's voice to be rather annoying in many instances. It was so light and too "happy." I didn't see Jane's heartbreak or dispair in any instances.
Jane Eyre 1983: Zelah Clarke
Negative: Zelah was twenty nine. Need I really say more? I also found her quiet strength to be TOO quiet in many instances. Sometimes she just didn't have that outer flash and Jane needs to have that. Zelah was rather reserved just like Jane should be, but she was reserved to the point of boring in a lot of cases.
Jane Eyre 1996: Charlotte Gainsbourg
Negative: I don't know just what it is that I didn't like about Charlotte. She had all the elements required to play Jane but she just didn't execute well. The thing is that she didnt inhabit the role of Jane. The whole movie I felt like she was "Charlotte Gainsbourg trying to be Jane" instead of seeing Jane on the screen. Her acting was very remedial like she was making mental notes in her head saying "Now, Jane is supposed to be mad here and happy here."
Jane Eyre 1997: Samantha Morton
Negative: Samantha had a horrible Rochester to work with. She was great when portraying Jane's singularity and solitude, but when it came to scenes that focused on her relationship WITH Rochester, it didn't resignate well at all. The chemistry just wasn't right. It felt like Samantha Morton had an idea of what she wanted to do and Ciaran Hinds had a different idea and that the two didn't communicate their ideas to each other. Therefore when the camera started rolling, the two were so busy working on their individual characters that those character's didn't mesh well with one another. Exhibit "A" being the kiss, which was absolutely horrible. Could you even call that a kiss?
Negative: Some people are going to hate me for saying this because a lot of people like it, but I couldn't stand Ruth in the proposal scene. At first she was great, but when she started sobbing it was just an absolute mess to me. I understand that Jane was in a state of distress and that she was asserting her independence and revealing her passionate nature, but any time the actor has to stop and wipe the snot from their nose during the scene it automatically tells me that you took it a little too far. I'm not making this up by the way, if you watch closely, Ruth really did wipe her nose during the scene. Also, I found a problem with Ruth's height. Either Toby Stephens was really short, or Ruth is just tall, but the two of them are almost the same height and it bugged me because Jane is supposed to be small. Or at least, that's how I pictured her.
Jane Eyre 2011: Mia Wasikowska
Positive: As I've said before, I did have my doubts when I saw that Mia was chosen to be Jane. I didn't particularly like her in Alice in Wonderland, so I didn't know how I would take to her. Surprisingly though, I really did like what Mia did with the role. She is the youngest actress to play Jane (twenty one) and she did look eighteen years old. I loved Mia's eyes when she played the role. The eye contact she made with Rochester and with other characters around her was piercing and very acute. Her glances and gazes gave us a gateway into Jane's thoughts without being melodramatic. Oh, and the leaving scene was absolutely beautiful. That scene alone made me acknowledge her as a serious actress. When she cries, she truly gives the impression that her heart is breaking without having to resort to sobbing and screaming the way Ruth Wilson did. Also, her chemistry with Michael Fassbender was absolutely palpable in every scene that they did together. The two helped strengthen each other.
Negative: I hate to say it, but I do think that Mia was kind of dry in some scenes. I think it was because the screen play didn't actually give her a lot of lines to deliver and a lot of the time her emotions were displayed through her eyes rather than through her mouth. Also, I don't know whether this is a negative or not, but what color was her hair exactly? Sometimes it struck me as red. Did anyone else notice that?
All in all:
My favorite Jane> Probably Samantha Morton or Mia Wasikowska
Still, just like the "Rochester Dilemna" I have yet to find THE Jane, the one that ultimately defines the role.