Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Jane Eyre 2006 Review

I had a feeling after posting my new poll that this would win out. I'm happy though, because I've been itching to review this for a while. All I needed was the proper excuse to put my lazy fingers (and brain) to work and pull myself out of this horrible writing lull into which I've fallen. Nothing excites me more than Jane Eyre reviews.

So, to commence my usual off-topic and slightly longwinded preamble, I'll start by saying that this is the first adaption of the novel that I ever saw. Ever. And when I found out that countless others existed, I was about as excited as a little kid overdosed on caffeine (to say the least). The miniseries was running late on the BBC during a sleepless night and I feasted my eyes gladly. I watched the first portion one Sunday, the second part the next, and then immediately ordered the DVD. I'm well versed on every detail of this adaptation. After all, before the 2011 version came and stole my heart, this is what satisfied me most.

                                                                                                        Casting: 

Jane: Ruth Wilson is a perfect choice for various reasons. The duck-like lips, lightly freckled cheeks, and darting eyes are all separate facets of the Jane that I personally visualize. Wilson possesses a unique and "sharp" beauty by which the Jane in my imagination is defined. Her ability to naturally imbue the character with that innate sense of self-respect and autonomy while also managing to capture the vulnerability and loneliness of the character when demanded is, without a doubt, stunning. Her imperfections only arise in the technicalities. She's obviously too mature to pull off being eighteen, too tall to earn the "little" description, and sometimes from certain angles even too extraordinarily stunning to merit the "plain" illustration. But then again, if we Jane Eyre fanatics pay too much attention to Jane's physical attributes then we'll never like an adaptation. Ruth Wilson does, however, do a great credit to the mental and emotional aspects of the character. Her Jane is composed, visually strong, and unafraid of those who try to intimidate her. She maintains all these essences of the character while also managing to make Jane a person that modern women can somehow relate to. The only downside I could find--and perhaps this is just me being picky--is that sometimes Ruth appears much too comfortable with Rochester in their first few conversations. I'm very particular about the first conversations between the two characters in an adaptation because they essentially set the groundwork for the rest of the film or miniseries. Jane is not supposed to be timid, but at the same time I wouldn't describe her as a person completely at ease. She and Rochester are both extremely guarded; jaded by their previous knowledge of a cruel world. By the second conversation I think Ruth's Jane is already getting too familiar with Rochester.

Rochester:
       Like Timothy Dalton and Michael Fassbender, Toby Stephens is much too sexy. Even beneath those brown hair extensions and 19th century muttonchops he is decidedly swoon-worthy. Once again, I make allowances for that. Who doesn't like a little extra sex appeal in a Rochester?
       Toby Stephens is great. He is the "bad boy" Rochester; the actor that reminds the audience again and again that Rochester's record is not squeaky clean. He plays the world-weary cynic perfectly (with extra help from lines like "I've been all over the world, Miss Eyre, and it's vastly overrated"). Toby isn't afraid to dive straight into the character and emphasize aspects of Rochester that other actors chose to gloss over in the majority of other JE adaptations. He boldly signals to the audience that Rochester isn't the image of some morally upright Romantic hero. He takes care to bring the defects of the character to light; his shameful sexual rap sheet, his spoiled and all too flattered ego, and his suave way of manipulating Jane's emotions (seen when Blanche comes to town). I love this projection of Rochester because it creates a stark comparison to the man he gradually becomes when Jane enters his life and alters things. That take captures one of the essential keys of his love for Jane. On the other hand, Stephens' portrayal of Rochester could be taken by some critics as not nearly as deep as it should be. If you don't look at it the way I just described, from the surface all you might see is a natural "pretty boy" persona that over-romanticizes the character. So from the same performance you might gather two completely polarizing viewpoints. This isn't a statement to take away from Toby's portrayal,  but merely a warning not to rely completely on what I've said here.

St. John: 
      Boy, did I love Andrew Buchanan as St. John! He is hands down my favorite portrayal of the character; perhaps because he adds an element to St. John that actually resembles a human being. After all, that is what St. John is. He's a cold, chauvinistic, "holier than thou" human being, but a man nonetheless. Every other actor who has portrayed St. John (to me) has either had about as much personality as driftwood or is cold enough to freeze over the Sahara. And St. John isn't cold. Quite the contrary. "He has a heart; [Jane has] seen it overflowing with passion...he just keeps it buried in stone with a tenacious willpower." Buchanan is that description manifested in reality. When St. John professes his love for Rosamund Oliver, everyone sees that flash of passion and the proof that he is capable of great warmth. In another second, however, he is back to the unbendingly pious antagonist we all love to hate. Great performance.

Others:
    Adele: Annoying. Didn't like this one at all.
    Fairfax: Solid performance. Not my favorite, but very close. A very nice maternal figure.
    Mrs. Reed: Tara Fitzgerald's bitterness permanently marked her as evil in my mind. Great.

Screenplay/Cinematography/Soundtrack/Costumes: 
     This is where the words of praise begin to see a decline. The screenplay is my major qualm about this adaptation. The dialogue is just not faithful enough to the novel. It's much too modernized, and because of the absence of the original language, that extra spark that could have been failed to ignite in this version. Then there's the problem of missing and fabricated scenes. For example, the conversation after Mason's injury, which isn't exactly integral but is definitely something worth keeping, is gone. Then there's the highly controversial leaving scene, which has been moved to Jane's bedroom, stripped of all Bronte's dialogue, and converted to a steamy kissing scene completely unlike the novel. Of course, I love seeing the physical chemistry between Toby and Ruth, but it doesn't do Jane's character justice and artistic license shouldn't go as far to alter such an essential part of the novel in that way. It's especially disappointing to feel so harshly about the screenplay because I enjoyed Sandy Welch's script from the 2004 BBC North and South miniseries and I had my hopes set high.
     There isn't much to say about the cinematography. It isn't very good, but then who really expects it to be? It's a BBC miniseries. Then again, it still could have been better. I did like how the director and camera crew made great use of the landscape surrounding Haddon Hall.
    Soundtrack. I didn't really notice it that much, but once I actually took the time to listen to it I didn't like it. Much too dainty for a gothic novel such as Jane Eyre. However, there are various sound samples during some particularly gothic scenes that change the tone and add an extra scary edge to the miniseries. This is the first adaptation to really take a peak into the "horror story" side of the novel since the 1944 and the 2011 film followed suit.
     Costumes: Ok. Not amazing. Not bad. Once again, were we really expecting much from a low budget miniseries?


     I believe I've already voiced them beneath the individual categories, but just to clarify, my only major problem with this adaption is the screenplay. That's a major letdown, but despite that, the 2006 JE is a solid adaptation. It has, debatably, the largest following of any adaption. A lot of that has to do with placing. This miniseries was released in the prime of a younger generation of Jane Eyre lovers. For lit lovers my age that were too young to appreciate the '96 and '97, the '06 came at a time when we needed it. I'm not the only one who's able to credit the '06 for pointing me to prior adaptions. This is, overall, the JE that ushers to a younger crowd. Toby and Ruth have a raw and realistic emotional chemistry that speaks to everyday people and makes this particular version of the novel one that reminds readers that 19th century literature can still connect to the modern world. Yes, it sacrificed some of the beautiful language in order to prove that point, but it is nonetheless endearing. Like any other adaptation, you have to learn to appreciate it for its strengths.

Please Comment and it's great to be back again. Love, Ari.

P.S: Just for our mutual viewing pleasure...

17 comments:

  1. "Our mutual viewing pleasure" :D Tee hee.
    Great review - as always. You nailed it really. The script was the major failing point for me, too. But at the same time I'm very fond of this - Wilson & Stephens nail the passion and emotion of the characters (and I don't see how Stephens portrayal is superficial at all). I don't know if it's my favorite - I can't pick :S - but it's definitely up there.

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    1. The screenplay is such a sad failure I think because if it had been written with even just an ounce more of faithfulness to the novel then this adaption might have been the definitive for me. All the other elements were in place to create close to perfection. As it is, you just can't deny the chemistry between the two actors and how they portrayed the characters, which is why this is so well loved. I know how you feel. :)

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  2. I loved a lot about it at first but over time it lost most of its appeal for me. Ruth is lovely (but surpassed by Mia since) but Toby is not Edward to me. He's way too mellow. And I agree about the screenplay. Sandy Welch really made a mess of this one (and Emma as well IMHO). Such a disappointment after North & South.

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    1. I completely understand you. When I first saw this version, I was obsessed. Then, gradually, I just started losing interest because I was aching for something more. Then the 2011 came out and I felt completely satisfied. That's when I turned back to this one and began to appreciate what I loved about it a little more.

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  3. I love this miniseries too. Ruth and Toby are a great on-screen pairing.

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  4. Great review! Thank you so much, Ari.
    Ruth is outstanding as Jane, and Toby is a very convincing Rochester. I love the way 2006 went for natural and believable characterisations, avoiding caricature.
    However, I must take issue with you (and the other commenters) about the screenplay. I thought it was brilliant! I'm one of those who believe that dogged faithfulness to the source material is not the virtue that some maintain. Do we really want to hear a transcript of the novel? What would be the point? And should each screen adaptation be exactly like it's predecessors? How boring! Novels are not screenplays and were never intended to be. The structure is entirely different. And original dialogue is often as clunky as a suit of armour! It's necessary, even desirable, to make quite major changes to a novel - and that includes modernising language and omitting/fabricating scenes. As one article wrote: "When comparing a film adaptation to its novel it should not be a question of faithfulness, but it should rather be a study of how the film maker has interpreted the written work and then translated it to suit the medium of film. These interpretations could perhaps even result in the reader discovering new exciting aspects of the novel."
    I think that the creators of 2006 have produced a piece of art IN IT'S OWN RIGHT, that is completely true to the essence and spirit of the book but is liberated enough to be fresh, and spontaneous and immediate. (All that said, the dialogue is more Bronte-faithful than it is often accredited.)
    I'm well aware that the leaving scene is a stumbling block for many. We've discussed this before! Lol. The screenwriter wanted to reinforce to a CONTEMPORARY AUDIENCE the depth of Jane's love for Rochester, the enormous sacrifice she ultimately made (with chastity intact, btw) and the strength of character it took to carry that through. Is the leaving scene gratuitously sensual? I would say NO. And, in fact, Bronte herself gives permission for such sensuality. Note that the leaving scenes take the form of flashbacks when Jane is in Morton, the first while she is lying on her bed in Moor House. We're inside Jane's head, seeing the past as she remembers it while she is going through emotional turmoil. Her memories are selective and subjective. Watch this scene, and then read this part from Chapter 32:
    " ...I used to rush into strange dreams at night: dreams many coloured, agitated, full of the ideal, the stirring, the stormy - dreams where, amidst unusual scenes, charged with adventure, with agitating risk and romantic chance, I still and again met Mr Rochester, always at some exciting crisis; and then the sense of being in his arms, hearing his voice, meeting his eye, touching his hand and cheek, loving him, being loved by him - the hope of passing a lifetime at his side, would be renewed with all its first force and fire. Then I awoke. Then I recalled where I was and how situated. Then I rose up on my curtain-less bed, trembling and quivering; and then the still dark night witnessed the convulsion of despair, and heard the burst of passion."
    Now, returning to 2006, this last part - where Jane convulses with despair on her bed - is what we see after the first flashback in 2006. Different time and place maybe, but the essence of what Bronte wrote - the sensuality, arousal and despair - is all there. So clever. And, of course, we have the juxtaposition of passionate Rochester and icy St John.
    Sorry about the length of this post! Hope I haven't bored you to sleep!

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    1. I knew that you would be the faithful 2006 fan to challenge my problems with the script, Supergran lol. Of course, I don't mean that a screenplay should be completely faithful to the novel. Copy and pasting doesn't exactly make for the most creative of screenplays :P. As far as screenplays go, I actually prefer the 2011 over everything. I didn't like the 1983 because it was TOO faithful, and the others were all ok. But the 2011 balanced creativity and artistic license with lines that every Jane Eyre fan just loves to hear. For example, in the proposal scene of the 2011 we have lines lifted from the book and a scene that captures the essence of the longwinded proposal and condenses it to something shorter. The same thing goes with the leaving scene of the 2011. At the same time, Moira Buffini took a risk when it came to altering the narrative progression of the novel and making the movie into a flashback. I felt like Sandy Welch over blew the watering down/condensing of the novel into modernity and

      As for the leaving scene, I'm glad that you shared that quote from the novel because I never actually looked at it that way. Convincing argument, Supergran. I don't mean to be harsh on the screenplay of the 2006 either. As I've always said, it always comes down to a personal preference.

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  5. "..it always comes down to a personal preference."
    Of course. And I don't think you were harsh on the 2006 screenplay. You wrote a very fair and favourable review. Sorry if I sound defensive - it's just that I've heard that particular criticism a lot.
    It's interesting about book dialogue and the question of it's preservation in an adaptation. Jane Eyre is my favourite work of fiction (as you probably know!), and I love it's prose. But even the most ardent advocate has to concede that the dialogue is unnatural - understandably so as it was never Bronte's intention that it be acted out. Andrew Davies (P&P) says: "Though dialogue is important too, and all the great writers write wonderful dialogue – the trick is to CRYSTALLISE DIALOGUE TO IT'S ESSENCE. Sometimes you can get away with "copying out the best bits"."
    The trouble with abridging and "copying out the best bits" of the book's dialogue is that you end up with something that is choppy and doesn't flow. Of course, you can't keep ALL the dialogue, so better to rewrite and have an end product that is fluid and coherent yet faithful to the ESSENCE of what Bronte meant. And making dialogue natural and real DOESN'T mean that it has to be anachronistic.
    I read an interesting passage in an online article about screenwriting (by Richard Walter). It says:
    "Your debt is not to the original material but to the audience watching (and paying for) the movie. Remember that you can’t really ruin a novel. If you adapt one into a trashy, useless script, the book still remains unchanged; the letters do not rearrange themselves on the page. Adaptors should feel free to delete scenes and entire chapters from the book; they should feel equally free to create wholly new material, even invent new characters, if in doing so they create a finer script. They should try at most to capture merely the spirit of the book, if that, and avoid becoming a slave to the facts and data contained in the original pages."
    I'm not sure that I entirely agree with this rather disrespectful approach, but I do have sympathy with it. Freed from the burden of tyeing oneself to the letter of a novel means that one can come up with something that is fresh and alive and creative. You mentioned JE1983. There's a terrible ernestness about it which just weighs it down.
    Do join in the discussions on IMDB. The boards are too quiet lately, but there is a good discussion of the bedroom scene. And I will post a reply to your 2011 review soon. Don't want to talk about it here because it's not good to make too many comparisons with other adaptations. I always try to compare different versions TO THE BOOK.
    Oh, and there is a sentence (or two) missing from your reply to me. I'd love to know what you were going to say.

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    1. Oh wow, there sure is something missing ha. Didn't even notice that. It was probably just something to add on or perhaps I deleted something I was going to say and forgot to replace the "and" with a period. Either way, I completely forget what it is I meant to put there so just disregard that typo.

      This is actually very instructional for me because my goal is to someday be a screenwriter. I promised myself that I would stay away from JE, however, because I have too much of a sentimental attachment to the novel. I will take a look at the boards like you suggested. My only problem with discussion and with writing these reviews is that I immediately feel guilty about some of the things I say because I know that everyone is very ardent when it comes to the things they love or hate. I'm horribly afraid of conflict unless it's in a book or movie. When I write these reviews, I'm actually a lot bolder than I am in real life. Writing has always allowed me to be bold. It's when discussion with other people comes in that I get a little hesitant.

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  6. Bless you. I hate conflict myself, being a Christian. But I don't think that discussion HAS to go down that road. Of course, sometimes we can't control the direction that a discussion will take. When I see things getting heated, I pull back. I'm not out to win arguments. It's just not worth it.
    I hope you don't think I've been argumentative. I'd hate to think I come across in that way.

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  7. The only thing that annoys me is the bed scenes I wish the BBC had filmed the library scene instead! (chapter 27 is one of my favourite parts of the novel, all the brilliant and passionate language in the novel was unused, why didn't they do it right?!)

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  8. I agree with you on most points. And I thought Rochester was downright flirty, almost from the start. Whereas in the book he purposely hides his interest for Jane.
    I re-read the book (mind you starting with chapter 10 I think) because I kept comparing it in my mind to the 2011 adaptation and I realised my frame of reference was not ..there.
    I really did not care for the modernisation the dialogue suffered in this adaptation. Especially considering how rich the language is in the book. The love, the connection, - the attraction even - between the main characters is there, in the conversation. I hardly think modern-day viewers would have much difficulty in understanding it. Besides, the costumes are from another age, the house, the transportation, the culture ..you name it - so why would it be any different when it came to the way they speak?
    But as someone has said in the previous comments, it probably would have sounded unnatural. Toby Stephens himself said that Rochester is very theatrical in the book and it wouldn't hold on screen, he would seem too much, and is probably right.
    But ... yes, about everything else has already been mentioned and I see most people agree that the St John portrayal was spot on, that the bedroom scene was unnecessary and , and, and.
    ..disapointing yes, to think that with a little more faithfulness to the book it *could have been* just about perfect.
    Great review, loved it

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  9. I think these complaints about the actors for Edward Rochester are unnecessary. I've seen a great number of both movie and television adaptations of "JANE EYRE". And I have yet to encounter an actor portraying Rochester who was not attractive.

    Instead of worrying whether the actor is too good looking or not, why not concentrate on how he portrays the character?

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  11. The bedroom scene capture the passion they have in the books...

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