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