Sunday, September 25, 2011

Top 10 "Jane Eyre" Proposals

Edit May 16, 2018: For updated and added reviews and content, visit my new website Lit Lovers & Corset Laces

Oh yes, it's about that time. I have done no Jane Eyre comparisons/ranking since my Bonnie's "Jane Eyre" rankings post. Seeing that most of you fellow bloggers seem to eat it up and I get to have the joy of communicating with you, I figured that it is once again time to sift through the numerous Jane Eyre adaptations once again.

Oh, the proposal scene! Could I even count the times I've cried while reading those pages? What reader can forget that timeless battle cry? "Do you think that because I am poor, obscure, plain and little that I am soulless and heartless? You think wrong! I have as much soul as you and full as much heart!" And what of the smoldering Rochester, who takes the struggling Jane into his arms and says, "My bride is here because my equal is here, and my likeness." 

Every adaptation of the novel is judged through differing eyes, but I'm pretty sure that when one judges it, the "proposal scene" normally accounts for at least 1/4 of the overall movie. If it doesn't have a good proposal scene, how could it possibly be considered a good movie (unless the "leaving scene" or "reunion scene" atone for it)?

So you know the basic idea. There are ten popular adaptations of Jane Eyre. Each proposal scene will be rated from last to first. Perhaps you might be surprised by what you see, perhaps not. Either way, PLEASE comment. It makes my day. :)

P.S: Some of the videos don't show the proposal in their entirety. The full 1944 isn't available on Youtube and neither is the 2011, but the rest should be in tact. 

#10: Jane Eyre 1934

Be prepared; this film will probably take a permanent last place in every Jane Eyre adaptation ranking I ever write. It was horrible. Everything about it was bad. Not only was the acting the worst I've ever seen, but it didn't even preserve a word of dialogue from the book. The woman who played Jane (I won't endeavor to remember her name) sounded whiny. Colin Clive was a bit better, but still BAD. There was a strange shriek in the middle of a tender moment that made me laugh. Bad, bad, bad....BAD. I laughed until tears came to my eyes.
Grade: F-

#9: Jane Eyre 1949
It's only slightly better than its precedent, but it too was horrible. The proposal was (once again) done inside of a room instead of outdoors and there was also absolutely no faithfulness to the novel. Why did they even bother making these adaptations if they weren't going to use the source material as a guide? Charlton Heston was young at the time, so the amazing actor he later became is almost nonexistent in this made-for-TV Rochester. As he kisses Miss Jane it seems as though he's breaking her neck (the common forties kiss). I don't have much of a comment to give. Slightly better than the 1934...still an epic fail.
Grade: F

#8: Jane Eyre 1973

This version had all the key components of the proposal scene mentioned in the book. It was outside, all the quotes were there, it took place at night (complete with the rain). And yet the leads fell horribly short. Was it the lack of forcefulness on Sorcha Cusack's part, the complete awkwardness with which Michael Jayston delivers supposedly passionate lines, or the utter lack of chemistry between the two that made this proposal so unappealing? Answer: all of the above. The technical elements were most definitely there; the emotional essentials were virtually nonexistent. Where is the passion dripping from their words? Why do I not feel the breaking of Jane's heart when Sorcha delivers her lines? Why does Jayston seem weird and completely unable to emote a good Rochester? I was heavily disappointed.
Grade: D

#7: Jane Eyre 1996

It wasn't all that bad, but it most certainly wasn't good. William Hurt's sleepy and rather nonchalant Rochester doesn't change, making this proposal seem like a drawling mess. Charlotte Gainsbourg seemed to be trying to hard and her Rochester wasn't trying hard enough. It's a horrible combination. Everything from the beginning to the "and so your are Jane" seemed catastrophic, and yet there was a slight moment during the ceaseless kisses and "and so, and so" that I felt the beginnings of a little knot in my throat. It disappeared for another few minutes then came back during the "then stay and marry me" and then was completely wiped away by an awkward kiss and a lack of rain falling from the sky. The rain/thunder/lightning deal is extremely important to me. The symbolism behind the weather in the novel is something too important not to include in an adaptation.
Grade: D+

#6: Jane Eyre 1944

This proposal only fought its way ahead of the 1996 because of the actions before the actual proposal (which I count as part of the overall "proposal scene"). Orson Welles appears in the garden and emits an intense stare at an unaware Joan Fontaine as he answers, "I changed my mind." Of course, the aforementioned line and the idea that he's supposed to be leaving with the Ingrams is a large deviation from the novel, but after those few lines were done with the scene resumed a rather faithful flow. Orson Welles follows Jane as she walks in front of him, his eyes never leaving her. For those few precious seconds before Jane's emotions come forth, I always note this feeling of magnetism between the two that is worth a thousand 1996 proposal scenes altogether. However, after that, things don't live up to expectations. Joan Fontaine's assertion of independence is much too restrained and when she utters the words "poor, obscure, plain, and little" it's almost impossible to believe that it's coming from her beautiful lips. The director took the Gothic feel to the extreme, stripping away all the passion from the scene and rushing all the dialogue thereafter. Everything just flew by, ending with a storm coming out of nowhere. BUT there was a lightning-struck tree!
Grade: C-

#5: Jane Eyre 1997

I bet you're wondering why I ranked it so high after I've made such a point to mention my disgust with the horrible kiss. But if you disregard that, it's not so bad of a scene. Of course, this proposal scene received a large chunk of points because of Samantha Morton's spot-on performance. Her declaration of equality was positively moving. For those few minutes, she was Jane. Tears dripped on a steely face, and I felt Jane defiantly trying to keep her heart from breaking. When she says, "I am your equal, and you have treated me as such" I want to burst into applause. On the other hand, there is a slight lack of faithfulness to the novel in dialogue. It was almost like they were reading a Sparknotes version of Jane Eyre that paraphrased the general idea. I give points for the rain, but deduct those same points for the absence of lightning. Oh, and BAD kiss!!!! I just had to add that point once again.
Grade: C

#4: Jane Eyre 1970

Perhaps I ranked this too high. It seems as though the 1970 has a power that makes it appealing despite its lack of faithfulness. I'm sorry, but something about this proposal scene was beautiful! Maybe its the riveting score or the way Susannah York's Jane allows the audience to experience a moment of sheer vulnerability when she pleads, "Please, don't make me foolish." Whatever the cause may be, I just can't resist this proposal scene. There was no night, no rain, no lightning, no faithfulness at all, and yet I couldn't even begrudge the failings because of the emotional chemistry. If only a faithful adaptation could have that much intensity! It's just beautiful. The proposal scene of this movie never fails to send tears running to the brink of my eyes. Still, I've been rather hard with my grades today and because of the dismissal of all the technical qualities, it still doesn't have too good of a grade.
Grade: C+

#3: Jane Eyre 1983

From here the race got really tight. Once again, the 1983 takes a solid third. Dalton delivers a knockout performance so true to the Rochester I imagined in the novel. His portrayal was breathtaking. I remember the first time I read the novel. One thing I remember with perfect clarity is when Jane asks Rochester to turn his face to the light so that she can study him. Jane then remarks that, "His face was very much agitated and very much flushed, and there were strong workings in the features, and strange gleams in the eyes." When Timothy Dalton steps from the shadows and lets the light fall on his features, he is the epitome of that description. He brings the perfect blend of agitation, passion, and slight eccentricity that Jane describes in the proposal. Yet, Zelah falls short, which is what lands this proposal scene at third. We must take into account that the proposal is as much about Jane's "declaration of independence" as it is about Rochester's passionate offer. It's such a shame that Dalton didn't have something better to work with. Oh, and once again there was no rain or lightning. Is it that hard to include?
Grade: B++

#2: Jane Eyre 2011

Are you surprised that I didn't rank it first? After all the talking I've been doing about the adaptation, you'd think that I might rank it first in everything. This proposal was lovely in every aspect. Let's start from the beginning. Jane walks along the path and Rochester runs after her. Michael Fassbender blocks her path, walking backwards in front of her; wearing a nervous and yet adoring smile as he asks her whether she likes Thornfield. Mia's Jane is surly, resolved not to let him know the misery she's feeling. Her answers to his questions are direct and acerbic and she tries not to look at him. He then asks, "We've been good friends, haven't we?" He never takes his eyes off of her, and as he turns back around to walk beside her we see their shoulders bump ever so slightly in a moment of brisk and kinetic contact. Jane then starts to break down, and if you listen you can hear the break in Mia's voice as she replies, "Yes sir." It's simply beautiful. Fast forward and then rain starts. The two run inside, skipping through Thornfield's foyer in indomitable bliss. Jane makes a dash up the stairs. Rochester eagerly pursues her, catches her by the arm, and she jumps willingly back into his embrace to share another loving kiss. Yes, there is rain. Yes, there is a lightning struck tree that will wedge its way back into the movie by the end. Yes, there is faithfulness to the novel ("You are my equal and my likeness")! Why wouldn't you rank it near the top?
Grade: A

#1: Jane Eyre 2006

Yes, I ranked it first! I know I've been so critical of the proposal scene in this version (and of the adaptation in general), but after revisiting this scene again I was once again taken by what I used to love about it. I used to ridicule the display of snot and what I used to think of as an overreaction, but I might actually take those comments back. Ruth Wilson's Jane is in a state of mental distress. She bares her soul before Rochester, lays it all on the table, and still tries to wriggle from his grasp in the midst of blinding tears. It's hard not to admire that kind of performance. What would we do if we were in the same position? I would cry, and I would probably cry just as hard as Ruth was crying in this scene. Across from her plays a passionate Toby Stephens who listens with tense composure as she pours her heart out to him. When she suggests the idea that she might actually leave him he jumps up and grabs her as if the thought is unbearable, firmly exclaiming, "You will not leave me Jane." The scene is ugly.  She wipes her nose on her sleeve and his voice breaks with alarming severity. It's raw, realistic, and completely akin to the relationship between the Jane and Rochester of the novel. Amidst tearstained cheeks, she asks him if he's in earnest. He entreats her to call him by his name in a way that makes my heart melt and tears come to my eyes. The significance of his pleading her to call him by his Christian name is something easily missed in other adaptions (and even in the novel), but you can feel it here. As they kiss the thunder rumbles in the distance and the rain starts to pour. As they jog back to Thornfield laughing under the rain, a lightning bolt comes from the sky and strikes the tree under which they sat with symbolic power. This proposal scene was very near perfect.
Grade: A 


  1. I went through a while back and watched most of the proposal scenes myself. I agree that the 2006 and the 2011 versions should be the top (although, as I'm sure you'll have guessed, I would reverse their order, haha), and the 1934 should 150% be last because it was just horrid. So, so, so bad. I don't know if I would be able to put Timothy Dalton's Rochester anywhere near the top three though...I just couldn't get over that awkward Timothy Dalton facial expression he always does through the whole thing. I actually didn't mind Charlotte Gainsbourg's Jane, but oh my...William Hurt. He must have had a reaaallly long day on set to look that sleepy. Or maybe he just was really bored with the subject matter (gasp! How could he?).

  2. Nice choices! My top three would be the same, but in a different order. JE06 would come in third, especially because of the (in my eyes) butchered language, even though Ruth is acting her socks off. The kiss is wide off the mark though.

    And two and one would be a toss up between JE83 and JE11. As you say, Tim is amazing and he is the only one who knows how to kiss a girl. Michael's kisses are a bit too chaste and close lipped for my taste. The rest of the proposal is lovely though.

    It's a shame almost every adaptation leaves out the first kiss during the So and Yet Not So bit. JE73 included it, but as you say that proposal is bland and I don't like Michael's (Jayston) interpretation either.

  3. @Joy: I don't think the 1934 could ever be anything BUT last. I had a hard time figuring out which to rank first out of the '06 and '11. It was a hard call but I tried not to be to biased by the fact that the '11 is the one I saw most recently and also seem to love the most. The '11 was very near perfect but it came second because in the end there was something missing. I think it was mostly on Mia's side. I liked her forcefulness but when she said "it strikes me with anguish to be torn from you" there was something just a little wanting; I think it was more vulnerability.
    I could understand how you feel about Timothy Dalton. Some people don't really like the '83 proposal and I didn't at first, but it grew on me. Timothy was just such a strong Rochester and the weirdness worked for me. Rochester is a weird person at certain points, ha ha. As for William Hurt, ditto. I thought he was yawning his way through the proposal.

  4. @Robas: Yes, you are right!!! The language was a major setback. But to defend myself, I can't tell you HOW hard I fought to keep from placing the '11 in first place. The '83 I probably wouldn't have moved. Timothy was sheer perfection, but he was only one half of that scene. Zelah's half just didn't do it for me. Despite the butchered language in the '06, I could safely say that both leads both had strong performances in the scenes whereas the '83 was pretty one-sided.
    The kiss is very important. I liked the '06 kiss for the reason that it was really imperfect. In fact, the whole scene was beautiful because of its imperfections. It was just human. But it seems as though we differ on kissing. I LOVED Michael Fassbender's kiss (especially the one on the stairs). But I also loved Timothy Dalton's kiss too, so in that we may agree. The top 3 are always the hardest to rank. But don't worry, I'll be ranking other scenes for the weeks to come and the '83 does end up claiming first in one of them.

  5. I thought Zelah wasn't bad. Not good, but not bad either. I guess my problem is that I have big problems with Toby's (or rather Sandy Welch's) interpretation of Rochester, so even though he acted his socks off it didn't satisfy me.

    Michael F.'s kisses on the stairs were lovely, as was the way they ate each other up during the fantasy snow scene. I just felt the kiss right after the proposal was a bit too close-lipped. It got better the longer it went on. I've seen Michael kiss Christina Cole (Blanche in JE06!) in Hex and that was much more sensual.

    I'm looking forward to your other rankings!

  6. I LOVE the proposal scene because it is moving, heartbreaking, passionate and romantic all at the same time. When I saw the proposal scene on TV I thought, 'At last it has been acted out exactly how I have always imaged it inside my head for years when reading the novel.' I also love the scene where they are running through the rain, all happy, giddy and in love and every time Edward says, 'Goodnight, my darling.' to Jane, I feel so happy because again it is how I pictured it, I want to Jane kissing Edward passionately as well. *sigh*

    The proposal scene is beautifully acted by both Toby and Ruth.

  7. Yes it really is. I also reallllyyy liked the 2011 version. It was hard to choose. But you're right. Toby and Ruth have excellent chemistry on screen the proposal and the kiss afterwards were done beautifully.

  8. Well, I must comment, because you pleaded. haha
    The proposal is SUCH an important part of Jane Eyre! None of them even come close to the book. I liked the movies before I read the book, but when I read

    My favorite is probably the 2011 one, although the 2006 was very good. Something about Ruth Wilson though seemed too... whiny. Well, not exactly; I can't really explain it. Actually, I watched the proposal scene by itself one time and it struck me that way, but when I saw the movie up to that point it didn't bug me as much. Guess I had to get the momentum and all that.
    Least favorite is definitely the 30s version. Haa haaa! I didn't even watch the whole movie. But what I did watch was ridiculous! Follies and nonsense, whims and inconsistencies! It was diverting if nothing else.
    I would rate the 1996 version higher than you did. I didn't really like that Rochester very much...not at all like the book...but it did seem to have a lot of emotion. After that point though, when it jumps straight to the wedding, and then straight to Thornfield burning, I am very generous with my irritation.
    1997...I can't stand Ciaran Hinds as Mr. Rochester. I just can't. And Samantha Morton--aka Harriet Smith--after I read the book I didn't like her as Jane, either. The whole movie's altered dialogue annoyed me excessively. The dialogue in the book is really good. Don't change it! Leaving stuff out is bad enough!
    Perhaps I would have liked the 1970 version better if it hadn't happened right after the Mason thing and Jane was in her nightgown? And besides, in the book Jane got dressed before she went to help with Mason. Bah.
    The 2011 version wasn't perfect either, but at least they got the 'poor, obscure, plain, and little' quote right, which many of the others failed to do. I also loved how Jane smiled at Mrs. Fairfax and went running up the stairs, just like the book said! Plus I just like that Rochester better than the others.

    Well, I need to get off. =)

  9. @Melody: My favorite is without a doubt the 2011. And Ruth Wilson does seem very overdramatic in the '06, but the rawness of emotion was something that I really admired. After all, Jane is such a reserved figure and when she does come out with her feelings perhaps it's just as passionate.

    I'll be the first to admit that I'm hard on the '96. The whole movie just seemed characterized by bad acting on the part of Charlotte Gainsbourg and it disappointed me sourly. William hurt wasn't that bad, but he was too old and the film was just a mess to me. I didn't really feel any of the emotion that Jane Eyre is so packed with.

    '97: I don't like Hinds as Rochester any more than you do, and I've voiced it in every occasion I can. In retrospect, I must admit that I don't really know why I ranked the '97 scene so high. The only explanation I have for that is that Jane Eyre adaptations fluctuate in my mind. I might look at it one week and find something about it that I love and then two weeks later I will point out all its defects. The only adaptations I'm truly concrete about are the 2011, 1983, and 1970 (no, not even the '06).

    The 2011 captured the essence of the proposal perfectly. I was watching it last night and I marveled at just how perfectly the chemistry of the actors matched in every aspect. It was the little things that really made the story believable such as that moment Rochester and Jane come euphorically scampering through the foyer after the proposal holding hands and (as you mentioned) that rare smile Jane issues to Mrs. Fairfax. Michael Fassbender was a great Rochester in every aspect, though others will readily disagree with me.

  10. I think that your view of Rochester is based on your view of men.....I prefer 1983 I suspect because of my age and I grew up with tough 'shielded' defended men like Dalton, as in contrast to 2006 more vulnerable men like Stephens. of course 2011 combines the tough and the vulnerable
    ....Fassbender cries twice....excellent acting.....check out Scott 1970 for a stalwart type,also excellent acting.