Thursday, July 14, 2011

Bonnie's Jane Eyre Rankings

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.
Oh, goodness! This adaptation was so horrible that it had tears of laughter coming to my eyes. Everything about it just screams "Spoof!" But surprisingly enough, I did genuinely enjoy a few moments when I wasn't laughing myself to death. This version deviated horribly from the novel. Rochester is Adele's "uncle" in this version and there are some other changes that aren't even worth mentioning. Actually, this version as a whole isn't worth mentioning. Everything from the very first scene to Virginia Bruce saying "I've brought your tea Edward" is just horrid. I can't even give it slack for the time period. Grade: F+. The plus sign is only added for a decent effort and a cute Adele.

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 can just feel the controversy coming on! Let me just say that deeming this version my favorite was a very tough decision. I can't tell you how close I was to just declaring it a tie between this and the '06. Let me tell you what finally gave the '11 the edge, though. I think that out of all the adaptions ever made, this  one did the best job of taking the essence of the novel and translating it to a screen. No, it was not completely faithful like the 1983 when it came to small detail, but I don't necessarily think that every detail of the novel should be put in an adaption. No, it didn't dwell on some things as much as the 2006. But when it comes down to it, this version had the best adapted script, paid the most attention to the gothic details, and arguably had the best portrayal of the characters.
 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!!


  1. Haha, woman, I'm not going to attack you. But only because I haven't seen most of the stuff on there ;)
    Only saw the Wilson-Stephens, Gainsborough-Hurt, and Clarke-Dalton one. Have to say I LOVED Dalton as Rochester - he had the sardonic but intense thing down pat. And also Dalton = smoking hotness on legs. Which is obviously not right for Rochester.
    I agree completely with what you said about the 2006 script - it annoyed me to no end because, while the costume and setting was all accurate, the dialogue WASN'T. It felt so out of place and made me cringe.
    Haha, love how you noted the sleepiness of Hurt. I thought it was only me who viewed him as being a little doped up on who knows what. Gainsborough didn't have the passionate thing going for her at all. I have yet to see the other ones though. I am so jealous that you have all the versions at hand that you can just pop them in and then write a review on it.

  2. Nice list! I agree with a lot of your comments (sleepy Hurt!Rochester, screaming Hinds!Rochester), although I have a rearranged top 3, with JE06 at number 3 (I loved a lot about it (mainly Ruth), but hated a lot about it too (Toby's Rochester, the dialogue, the invented leaving scene). I'm not sure which of the other two is my number one at the moment. I've adored JE83 (and Tim's Rochester in particular) for a long time, but the new film impressed me very much. So it's a toss up between these two. Mia is definitely my favourite Jane though.

  3. I was almost going to say "hey, I don't remember writing this!" ;) There are some differences in opinion, though. I would rank '70 (not '79) lower than '73. Aww what the heck, I might do a post myself about it! Except it will have to wait until I've seen the newest one. In a couple of months ... *sigh*

  4. I agree with you on the '96 and '97 ones and I haven't seen the '11 one yet but my favorite is the '06 one. I know that the dialogue was made more modern, etc but I think at times they did allow the actual dialogue to come through in certain scenes. I also like how they took some of the debates that were going on at the time concerning children, madness, etc and used that as symbolism for the film. I also love Toby's Rochester. Having read the book twice now, I see that Rochester is a very complex character. He isn't rough and gloomy all the time. In fact, he can be very tender and passionate and even funny. I felt that Toby did a very good job conveying all the emotions.

    I actually but the '73 version second. Even though Jayston probably didn't get the whole gloominess down as well as others, he still was able to convey the tenderness and passion that Rochester has. I would put the '70 version with Scott and York at #3 even though they deviated a lot from the book and York was too old. I felt it was a sweet adaptation and I was surprised by Scott's performance.

    I can't stand the '83 version. Dalton has all the gloominess, the roughness, etc but where is the tenderness and passion? It is perhaps the problem that they had a pathetic Jane in Clarke who couldn't show passion if it was stuck on her forehead. I felt that it dragged too.

    So, I am looking forward to the '11 version but I have to wait until next month to see it. Then I can say who I like better :).

  5. Your post just got mentioned on Bronteblog!

  6. Oh, look at all these comments! Yay!! Ok, replying in order:

    @Lady Disdain: I understand you completely. The '06 took such pains to preserve the setting and costumes, but not the dialogue. I felt like I was watching a modern day romance being acted out in the 1800s. The majority of the adaptions are available on Youtube (1934, 1970, 1983, 1996, 2006, and I think the 1997) the 1973 isn't on youtube in its entirety, but it shows clips of the most important parts to give you the full idea of the adaption. I just so happen to own the 1944 and the 1949 I found online. I'll give you the link if you want it. It turns out that there was an also 1952 and 1957 made for American TV but I can't seem to find it anywhere and from what I hear they aren't really worth finding. And how could I NOT note Hurt's sleepiness. It was actually kind of endearing in some parts, but it just wasn't Rochester at all.

    @Robas: Thank you very much. The top three was really close because I enjoy all of them. As for the '06, I thought both Toby and Ruth were great but just "not quite there." I've watched the new film about four times, and each time I got the same impression whereas when I watched the '06, I always find myself not liking it as much. I used to despise the '83 until I watched it for the last few times and gained appreciation for the detail and found great points in Tim's Rochester (even though Jane was very wanting).

    @Traxy: Ha ha! Thank you for your correction. That completely escaped my notice! PLEASE write a post once you see the new film. I would love to see your personal opinions of each! Just a few more months, you can hang in there!

    @Rapunzel:The '06 was my favorite until the '11 came and challenged it. It was actually the first adaption that I ever saw. I used to hate the 1983 at first until it just started to grow on me. The great detail combined with some moments of magic between the leads made it enjoyable for me. I just had to watch closely. It's funny how sometimes your opinion can change after you examine something a bit more thoroughly. The exact opposite thing happened with the '73. At first I loved it, but the more I watched the more the lack of mystery and darkness began to irk me.

    I can't wait until the '11 comes out to those of you who haven't seen it! Keep the comments coming! :)

  7. i have to admit i haven't seen them all but i agree, 2011 is tops, followed by '06 and 1944 would be a close 3rd. :)

  8. Yay! I'm glad to find someone who puts the '11 first as well!

  9. You know I never eally keep up with the Jane Eyre stuff. You have Jane Erye, I have the Scarlet I the only one who laughed when she found out about his little "secret".

  10. @Bubbles: Thanks for reminding me! I have to remember to review the "Scarlet Letter" soon. I can't even remember what my reaction was when the secret was revealed...I've read it so many times that I know the plot like the back of my hand...

    Did you ever watch the movie online? Knowing me, you know that I've watched it more than once.

  11. Excellent review and analysis! I agree with most of what you said about the versions I've seen. I've said it before: it's nice to hear from someone who's as passionate about JE as I am and isn't afraid to gush about it.

  12. Thank you very much. :) Glad you liked it

  13. I literally have just finished watching the 1970 version and I totally agree with your review. I was really surprised by how much I liked this adaptation. Yes, there were changes (Gateshead, Jane's uncle and her inheritance were entirely cut out of the story), but even so I enjoyed it. As you say, although the actors were not ones I would have chosen, they were really good together and seemed to really understand Jane and Edward.

  14. Exactly! There's something endearing about the 1970 that just slowly seeps into the heart of the viewers. It is rather surprising because as you said, there was a lot left out that might have ruined any other movie. Somehow this adaption made it work.

  15. There must be something in the air as I have been addicted to Jane Eyre for the past month. I first read the book when I was 14 (now I'm 55). I read it several times in High School and a few times since. I saw the 1970 version first when I was in HS too. Mr Rochester has always looked like George C Scott--not very romantic. Then, in July I saw the 1983 version on Netflix. I fell in love with Timothy Dalton. I love his portrayal. I love how, after the fire he takes her hand by slowly wrapping his fingers around her hand one by one and then putting his other hand over hers. And then tells her to go the second time, but actually pulls her in closer. To me that is so much more sensual than the almost kisses of the other versions. I love how tender he is on the stairs when she leaves the drawing room a little depressed. She looks down and he picks her head up and caresses her chin.

    I like the '06 version too, even though it is written for today's audience. I like their cameradierie. The music is gorgeous. Very stirring.

    I do not like the 1997 version AT ALL! MR Rochester is a verbally abusive ASSHOLE, and in the after the fire scene he seems a little pedophiliac too. He gave me the creeps. I could not finish watching it. St John was so kind and so handsome, and so much more loving I would have stayed with him.

    William Hurt was OK. Obviously American.

    In the 2011 version they didn't have enough details of the novel. I couldn't tell what people's motives were. For example, how did Mason find out about the wedding without Jane's uncle?

    In the last month I can't tell you how many times I've listened to the Audiobook on my iPhone, read the book, watched the various versions. It's like when a song hits you and you can't get enough of it. Thank you for posting your opinion.

  16. Yay! Another "Jane Eyre" lover! I really did like the '83. At the same time, I think that my main problem with it was the fact that it doesn't really seem to be about Jane (I know that doesn't make any sense). I guess what I'm saying is that Dalton's performance is so strong that Clarke's pales in her scenes with him, which almost makes me forget that Jane is actually the person we're supposed to be following.

    Thank you for your opinions! :)

  17. the 2006 version with Toby and Ruth is my best and then i like the 1983 version of Jane Eyre. Toby willalways be my best Rochester and Ruth my best Jane

  18. @Anonymous: Toby was a veryyy good Rochester and Ruth was a considerable Jane. I think the screenplay let them down.

  19. The BBC 2006 adaptation is my favourite! x

  20. @Kate: The 06 was my favorite as well until the '11 came along...even now I still love watching the 06 whenever I'm in need of some romance.

  21. If u dont compare the book with the movies and just watch the movies for themselves, i liked 06 the best. I love good love stories and thats what this version was. Smoldering chemistry in tiny little nuances of facial expressions, and i LIKED the bedroom scene, so there! I just wish it was me with toby stephens! If u dont compare movies to their respective books, they are usually more enjoyable. Just sit back and watch for the sake of enjoyment (although i think most of the the versions sucked wether they followed the book or not. YAWN! Boring!). I think 06 is most enjoyable then 11. But hey, before u lable me as shallow, i will say this: there is no substitute for reading the book! Its my all time favorite book ever!