Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Jane Eyre 1983 Review

I'm a writer and blogger who composes language through complete instinct. The words that scamper through my head are the same ones that assume a place on this blog, because this is one of the only places where they are allowed to roam free without revision. Writing my first essay of the school year today, I realized just how content I had become with writing my feelings without any particular way of organization. This blog seems to have spoiled me. 

Because my mind has switched back into "school mode", the carefree and rather primitive writer that summer allowed me to be has been slightly influenced by the formal student lately. For example, while I sat down to write this review, my responsible inner-student asked my why I didn't ever think to simply review the adaptations in order. Now the free-spirited writer in me answers back, "Because I didn't feel like writing them in order." I wrote them at random because at that particular moment a particular adaption moved me to write about it. The art of writing comes in its freedom. 

With that being said, I'm also slightly surprised by myself. Perhaps the 1983 should have been reviewed sooner. But no matter. It's being reviewed now, and that's all that matters at the moment. 

It's hard to believe that I was ever "new" to Jane Eyre. I'm so familiar with the novel that it seems like an inborn aspect of my being that I never had to acquire. But reminiscing on those eager early days after I read the novel, I remember the anticipation I felt when I discovered the 1983 version on Youtube. I approached the adaption shortly after having seen the '06, and the idea of "multiple adaptations" was still new to me. Feasting my eyes on '83 for the first time, I realized that it wouldn't be so easy. 

The adaption is a long one. The '06 is a two-part miniseries divided into two-hour sections. Altogether the '83 amounted to a lot more than four hours, and you definitely cannot blame this adaption for cutting out Jane's childhood and time at Lowood. These scenes mirror the book in atmosphere and dialogue, and no detail is left unshared with the audience. Every character is included down to good old Miss Temple who is cut out of most adaptations altogether. The benefit of such weight being placed on Jane's early years is that the audience feels and comprehends her growth and progression. I guess what I'm really trying to say is that the '83 was the only version that actually made Jane's eight years at Lowood really seem like eight years rather than just breezing over the first portion of her life and making the viewer believe that Lowood chewed her up and spat her out in a matter of minutes. 

After inching through the tortuous details of Jane's childhood (which was at various times rather boring, I must admit), Zelah Clarke sits behind the teaching desk of Lowood and hands spelling books to her young pupils. Jane is supposed to be merely eighteen now, but Zelah's appearance, voice, and actual age project a maturity that is much too old to present the physical authenticity of a mere teenager of Jane's inexperience. I grant that Jane's character is a naturally mature eighteen-year-old. Though she isn't necessarily acquainted with the world, she is fully educated of it, and teenagers of that age were held to a much greater standard of maturity than we in the present-day. However, even with those excuses to render, I'm also a firm believer in the idea that Jane's mental maturity should in no case be mistaken for physical maturity, and what Zelah Clarke has is most definitely the latter. 

As the adaptation evolves, however, I actually found myself warming up to Zelah's Jane. Though her age continued to irk me, there is a certain kind of reserve and austerity that Zelah infused into the character. The composure with which she conducts herself upon her first encounters with Rochester show Jane's directness and unwavering poise. The obvious sense of self-possession that Zelah's Jane contains can also easily be interpreted as wooden, however, and I often found myself forgetting that Jane was more than a serene and responsible governess. Jane is a character of outward peaceableness and inward turmoil in many cases. The youth in her is essential because it is that aspect that makes her passionate, pointed, and even rebellious at times. Zelah's Jane lacks that vigor completely. 

Opposite Zelah Clarke's rather unremarkable Jane, Timothy Dalton's Rochester atones for the failings of his co-star. The 1983 Jane Eyre is truly Rochester's show. Dalton was the perfect man for the job, providing all the fire and conflict that the adaptation's Jane lacked. He was probably one of the best Rochesters to ever grace an adaptation of the novel for the simple fact that he touched on more of Rochester's many facets than most actors before or after him were able to. Dalton is both morosely unattractive and smolderingly handsome. He finds the perfect balance between Rochester's off-putting eccentricity and mysteriously inviting attractiveness. The Rochester we find in this adaption is manipulative, aggressive, strange, passionate, and tender. In my opinion, almost no other actor encompasses the character's sharp contrasts better. 

However, in all other areas besides the adaption's Rochester, I found the 1983 extremely lacking. Yes, this is the closest possible adaptation to the book. There are minor changes in some scenes, but after seeing how faithful the miniseries is as a whole one doesn't even remember them. The dialogue is copy-pasted straight from the novel. But there is more to Jane Eyre than the lines of elegant and witty dialogue. There is a passion that exists between the lines; a chemistry that can't be created through the simple rehearsal of identical dialogue, and the truth of the matter is that Zelah and Timothy just don't have it. The minor characters such as Adele, Mrs. Fairfax, and St. John aren't even memorable in this version. The subplots to Jane and Rochester's relationship are presented with such blandness that we barely even take note of them. 

Timothy Dalton carries the weight of this adaptation entirely on his shoulders, and his performance combined with the amazing faithfulness of the adaption to the source material is enough to make this version truly enjoyable and even tear-jerking in many instances. But to call this adaptation a definitive is an impossibility. It possessed all the mechanics but none of the skill. Yet, I must hastily explain (for those who are in total disagreement with me) that I really did love it! As with most Jane Eyre adaptions, this one nearly hits the mark. It's as if the definitive is the central mark on a bullseye, and this version has barely missed it. Yet, so close of a distance appears to be so far. 

Don't understand me? I fully comprehend your feelings. I barely understand myself sometimes. But the basic idea is that this adaptation--like all the others--is subject to opinion, and in the end my opinion seems rather complex and indecisive. The only thing left for you to do is find out what yours is. 

Always love to see comments! 


  1. I actually just recently got this version out from the library (They only had VHS! And apparently the second part, which I haven't got around to, has a lot of interference. Can they not afford DVDs. Gah!). I have to say I agree with a lot of what you say.

    Clarke IS way too old, too old to convincingly portray an 18 year old girl, or even project the appearance of youth and naivete. What really ticked me off though, was the proposal scene. Clarke is WAY too composed! I can't believe the director let it go; it seems such a crime against the book, more than any deviation from dialogue could be.

    And Dalton is...can anyone say "sizzling"? His performance is spot on. He's my favorite Rochester by far. As you say, he captures the bad and the good of Rochester, and there are even moments when I can see how he can be viewed as being physically unattractive (Gasp! Did she just say that?!), especially by someone from Bronte's time when they had decidedly different views on what constituted good looks.

    However, I thought Mrs. Fairfax was a good choice - she almost seems to have walked straight out of the pages of Bronte's novel. Although I haven't gotten around to the bit with the Rivers there are sub-characters who seem very wooden - like Helen (felt as if this girl was just reading out the lines. I think I was developing some sort of twitch from watching her).

    I can't fully form an opinion on it until I've watched it in its entirety though. Have only seen it once before and it was oh so long ago.

  2. I'm glad to see you agree with me so far. Unlike most characters in the novel, I actually never really had a mental image of Mrs. Fairfax. Even though she was a prominent character in the novel because of her maternal protection of Jane, I always thought that she was a woman who could be interpreted different ways. I guess that I just didn't really pay attention to her in this version.

    The St. John parts are good, don't get me wrong. It's just that (as usual) the St. John doesn't actually create a contending rival for Rochester. For once I would love to see a St. John who might actually equal the one in the novel. What people don't seem to understand was that Jane was truly grappling with the idea of returning to Rochester, and at a certain point she was even contemplating on marrying St. John and giving up all dreams of reuniting with Rochester at all. Most St. Johns in screen adaptions don't pose enough of a threat, and this one is one of them.

    Have fun watching it! Don't hesitate to leave more comments when you're done. :)

  3. Before 2011 this was (and probably still is) my favourite version. The biggest reason being Timothy Dalton. I agree with Lady Disdain that his performance was spot on. He completely embodies the Rochester from the book.

    While I like Zelah's performance in general, I agree with a lot of your comments about her.

    As for the secondary characters: Here I have to disagree with you. I really like this Mrs Fairfax and Adele and Andrew Bicknell's St John is exactly how I pictured him it the book, the tall blond Greek God with a heart of ice and an overbearing character.

  4. I guess the main point of disagreement that people seem to find with this review is my argument against the supporting actors. I did like the performances, but in my eyes they just kind of faded into the background a bit too much. Bicknell's St. John was very commendable, but I receive so much heartlessness from him. If I had to choose a favorite St. John, it would probably be from the '06. St. John, (as the Jane in the '06 says) does have a heart, but keeps it "buried in stone". The way the '06 St. John showed his true passion for Rosamund Oliver and actually betrayed a bit of his vulnerability gave the character more humanity. Maybe it's because of his portrayal that I don't really find the others as good.

  5. Personally I didn't recognise book-St John in 06-St John. If I didn't know Jane's heart lied with Edward, I would have been quite ok with her marrying 06 St John, while nothing could convince me that book St John is a good match for her.

  6. But at the same time, Jane acknowledges that the book St. John could be good for her. She says that marrying him would not be entirely bad because he is a respectable man with brotherly affection for her and she would get the chance to serve God. It's just that she understands that the passion Rochester shares with her is worth more than just a "good old-fashioned" marriage of that time.

  7. Yes, but isn't that before his horrible last proposal when she declares that being married to him would kill her?

  8. True. But she always maintained an admiration and respect for St. John even when she acknowledged is coldness. If Jane had married St. John, she wouldn't have been unlucky. In that era, wouldn't a dutiful marriage to a mannerable clergyman and missionary be considered a lucky match? For some reason, I always get the feeling that the big deal about St. John was that if you looked at him logically, he was a great husband. However, Jane doesn't want to look at it logically but emotionally.