Edit May 16, 2018: For an updated version of these Jane Eyre rankings (and more rankings and reviews), visit my new website Lit Lovers & Corset Laces.
I just had a personal "Jane Eyre-a-thon" in which I watched just about every Jane Eyre adaption ever made all day. I've compared Rochesters, compared Janes, analyzed chemistry, talked about and reviewed a few adaptions. Having now compared each and weighed the positives and negatives, I have now officially ranked all the Jane Eyre adaptions according to my personal ("personal" is in italics to emphasize the fact that I know that some of you won't agree with me) opinion.
For any of you haven't seen some (or any) of the adaptions, I hope that this may help serve as a guideline to you, but we must all forge out own opinions when we watch adaptations of novels. I've always stressed in almost every post in which I must compare aspects of an adaption that the success of a film or miniseries wholly depends on your personal image of the novel. With that being said, this ranking is done based on my image. As always, PLEASE comment because even though I am very decided in my opinions, I still always love to hear the rankings of others.
The rankings will go from ten to one with ten being the worst and one being my personal favorite. Each ranking will include a mini (paragraph or two) review. I'll try not to take up too much of your time, but it's hard not to get a bit carried away when speaking (or typing) on a subject as enjoyable as Jane Eyre. So here we go!
10. Jane Eyre 1934 starring Virginia Bruce as Jane, Colin Clive as Rochester.
9. Jane Eyre 1949 starring Mary Sinclair as Jane and Charlton Heston as Rochester
This is only slightly better than the 1934. Actually, that's not true. It's much better but still not very good at all. It was a low budget adaptation made for American TV in the 1940s, so I will cut it SOME slack. The setting made Thornfield seem like an American townhouse rather than an estate and from what I remember, every scene took place in the SAME room. The one upside is that it starred Charlton Heston as Rochester. He wasn't good, but it's Charlton Heston so he automatically counts as an upside. The other upside is that this is the ONLY adaption (from what I recollect) that actually includes Rochester's famous slip up, "Goodnight my--." Grade: D-
8. Jane Eyre 1996 starring Charlotte Gainsbourg as Jane and William Hurt as Rochester
For some reason I feel like I'm going to get a lot of heat for ranking this adaptation so low. From what I've seen on the internet, some people actually count this as their definitive Jane Eyre adaption. I don't understand it, but it's all a matter of opinion I guess. For all it's worth, this version really wasn't all that bad. It just wasn't as good as the rest of them. There was a complete lack of chemistry between the two leads, a horrible sense of "blah" from Charlotte Gainsbourg, and a feeling of utter sleepiness from William Hurt.
I'm glad that this version actually paid some heed to the age difference between Jane and Rochester and I also liked some of the blatant symbolism such as "the shadows are just as important as the light" and "the roses had thorns" but it felt like this movie was taken apart and put back together in chunks. And the leaving scene (which I count as one of the most important scenes in the novel) was practically nonexistent! Grade: C-
7. Jane Eyre 1997 starring Samantha Morton as Jane and Ciaran Hinds as Rochester
Once again, not that bad. Just not that good. This adaptation could have ranked so much higher had it not been for Ciaran Hinds who made a horrible Rochester. All I can remember is "scream scream scream." The chemistry was horrible and made even worse by the messiest kiss I've ever seen. There were also enormous details either left out or changed for no apparent reason. All details of Lowood are merely skimmed over. Jane's return to Gateshead isn't actually put in the film at all, it's one of those "I'm leaving" and then cut-to "I'm back!" kind of scenarios. But there were streaks of genius such as when Rochester and Jane watch the sun rise, and even the reunion scene was done solidly. I noticed that Rochester's injuries were done pretty well. I also love how Rochester gives sympathy to his wife in this version. Just a little kiss on the head made him seem like much less of a villain. Grade: C
6. Jane Eyre 1973 starring Sorcha Cusack as Jane and Michael Jayston as Rochester
I only ranked this higher than the '97 because it was the first adaptation to really include all the details of the novel. Details are rather important and can make up for lack of chemistry and acting skill. Sorcha Cusack's Jane had the same facial expression for every emotion! Her eyebrows stayed at the roof of her head for most of the miniseries. Michael Jayston was an "okay" Rochester, but he didn't inhabit the role whatsoever. This adaption made Jane Eyre come off as a "quaint little love story", which it most definitely is NOT! Jane Eyre is supposed to be full of darkness, danger, and passion but this version's cast, music, and setting made everything seem much too happy. There was no sense of torment, no emotionally charged atmosphere evoked by either the set or the actors. Grade: C
5. Jane Eyre 1970 starring Susannah York as Jane and George C. Scott as Rochester
Not bad. I was very forgiving of this adaption for some reason. A lot of details were skipped over and the actors weren't at all who I would pick to play Jane and Rochester, but something about this adaption worked really well. Even though York and Scott weren't necessarily "Jane and Rochester", they had a good on screen chemistry that surpassed that of a lot of other adaptions. The ages of the characters were completely disregarded, St. John is much too nice and very creepy, and the Lowood scenes are breezed over (again) but it was still really good!
I don't understand what it is about this version that had me smiling. It fails in all the small details but when it came to the core of Jane and Rochester's relationship, it delivered. However, its lack of faithfulness to the novel makes it hard to watch sometimes, even with the good chemistry and a few tear-jerking moments. Grade: C
4. Jane Eyre 1944 starring Joan Fontaine as Jane and Orson Welles as Rochester
Are you surprised that I ranked it this high? I know, so am I. But it was good! You really see the true gothic elements of the novel in this movie. Joan Fontaine is much too pretty to be playing Jane, but she was still good. Orson Welles was a very good Rochester. He definitely helped the film a lot because he was the closest to my mental image of the character. He was the first truly intimidating Rochester. They just don't make classics like this movie anymore. Sure, it's got cheesy graphics and melodrama in bundles, but it's still a solid adaption with solid settings, solid actors, and a solid inclusion of some important details from the novel. I also love how this version conducted the big revelation of Mrs. Rochester. It was rather scary! Grade: B-
3. Jane Eyre 1983 starring Zelah Clarke as Jane and Timothy Dalton as Rochester
This is truly the adaption that sticks closest to the book. In fact, it sticks so close that sometimes it seems like there wasn't even any need to write the screenplay because it felt like the actors used the original novel as their only script. The problem with sticking that close is that there is such as thing as too close. Sometimes this adaption just felt like it was too close. But it was still really good! Zelah Clarke (though too old) was a presentable Jane. Timothy Dalton was a great Rochester that actually fit the physical description of the character. The chemistry was lovely (in most areas, not all) and all the details of Jane's childhood and her experiences with St. John were dwelled on with more emphasis than any other adaption.
This version has a very large fan base. A lot of Jane Eyre enthusiasts would deem this adaption their definitive version because of its undying faithfulness to the novel. If you're looking for a cheap way out of reading the book without failing your English test then I would recommend you watch it, even though you could probably read the book faster because this version is very long. But in my personal opinion, faithfulness to the source material is not the only thing to look for in an adaption, and so in a lot of other areas this version fell too short to be my definitive. Grade: B
2. Jane Eyre 2006 starring Ruth Wilson as Jane and Toby Stephens as Rochester
Great adaption! This one has the greatest fan base by far it seems. Details all made it through in tact, gothic elements were definitely present, chemistry between leads was amazing. Ruth Wilson played a really great Jane though she (like the rest of them) was a little too old. Toby Stephens was a lovely Rochester, though not as forceful as I might have liked. You can't deny that the two leads had a great chemistry. I also loved the St. John in this adaption. Something about him was just much more likable than those in previous versions. I warmed up to him much more and he created a better foil for Rochester. Everything about this version was just good. Ruth was a natural and passionate Jane. Toby Stephens was a gloomy and sensual Rochester. I loved the way that this version delves into Rochester's memories. Instead of having Rochester just tell us what he's been through, they show us, which helps fully impress us with the emotions of his past. The flow of the plot moved fast enough to keep me actively engaged without compromising the details from the novel. They even threw in a tweaked gypsy scene! If it's all that good, then why is it only second?
The one thing I just couldn't stand was the lack of faithfulness to the novel when it came to dialogue. It seems like I've said this over and over, but I'll say it again; the script just seemed way too dumbed down! It frustrated me to pain that the screenplay wasn't done better, because if it had been then it probably would have been my definitive version. Oh well. Grade: A
1. Jane Eyre 2011 starring Mia Wasikowska as Jane and Michael Fassbender as Rochester
I felt the pain of Jane's childhood without having to spend an hour on it. I could feel the heat of the passion between the two leads through the screen. I got a great picture of Jane's life with St. John and his contrast to Rochester through the use of flashback. Mia Wasikowska was a young, acute, and understanding Jane. Michael Fassbender was a sardonic, probing, and passionate Rochester. The costumes were spot-on. The dark cinematography nailed the feel of the novel. All the essential elements of the novel were compressed without being chunked and translated without being lost. Everything was done well. Is it my definitive? No. None of the adaptions are. Grade: A
I feel some comments coming on!!