TV miniseries review: Jane Eyre (2006), directed by Susanna White, adapted by Sandy Welch
The most recent Jane Eyre adaptation to come out before Cary Fukanaga’s 2011 version is this one, from 2006, starring Ruth Wilson and Toby Stephens, with screenplay by Sandy Welch (North & South ’04, Emma ’09), and of course based on Charlotte Brontë’s classic.
This was not the first adaptation I ever laid my eyes on, but it’s the adaptation I watched that turned me into a Jane Eyre fan and had me reaching for the book and dying to read it. Not in 2006 when it was on – I saw very little of it then, if any! No, for me, it began when I caught a re-run on one of the “UKTV” digital channels in the summer of 2008. Haven’t looked back since.
This version starts out with young Jane (Georgie Henley, of Narnia fame) in a desert, wearing flowing red robes. She’s daydreaming away from the horrid Reed family at Gateshead, of course. Mrs Reed (Tara Fitzgerald), as sympathetic as ever, looks quite scary, I have to say. Wouldn’t have thought Fitzgerald old enough to play Mrs Reed, personally, but there you go. Noticed that there’s a red filter on the camera when Jane is in the Red Room, and I think it was this rather than the room actually having red details which made it, well, red.
After Jane’s Red Room fit, she doesn’t get to see the apothecary Mr Lloyd, but rather it’s straight to the visit from Mr Brocklehurst, and then it’s off to Lowood, which is looking like a very gloomy place indeed. Apparently, parts of Lowood were filmed at the old stables at Bolsover Castle in Derbyshire – which is funny, because we were at a wedding reception there a couple of years back!
There’s Helen, there’s Jane on a stool with the “LIAR” sign … and it’s all fairly standard stuff, to be fair. Nothing to get too emotionally attached about when it comes to pretty red-head Helen, so when she inevitably dies, it’s not terribly stirring. The transition from past to present is Jane sitting by Helen’s grave and drawing with charcoal – and then she’s an adult, played by Ruth Wilson. In my notes for this adaptation, I’ve written that Charlotte Brontë was accomplished in drawing/painting, just like Jane, underlining how much of the author actually went into the character.
One thing that struck me was when Jane is on her way to Thornfield, because the voiceover tells of the letter she received from Mrs Fairfax, seeking a “governess to Miss Adèle Varens, ward of Mr Rochester of Thornfield Hall”. Thus the whole “Miss Fairfax” incident is redundant and is not included at all, as she already knows her pupil is “Miss Varens”. Speaking of which, Adèle strikes me as a bit on the oldish side, but I like her.
Arriving to Thornfield Hall (Haddon Hall in Derbyshire, just like in 1996 AND 2011, yay!), the gatekeeper is a scary-looking fellow! From Mrs Fairfax (Lorraine Ashbourne), we find out that Mr Rochester “used to tell jokes as a child”, but perhaps he’s not quite as cheerful nowadays. The master of the house is introduced ~40 minutes into episode one, where Mesrour doesn’t so much slip on the ice, but is spooked by Jane, and throws off Rochester (Toby Stephens). The music as they meet is partly dramatic and partly dreamlike.
Music overall is very atmospheric and nice. If you close your eyes and listen to this adaptation, or indeed just listen to the audio anyway, you’ll notice this is a lot more reliant on visuals than previous adaptations to tell the story. Which is good if you can see, but as far as listening goes, both 1973 and 1983 work a lot better. Not that it matters when you watch it, providing your vision isn’t impaired.
The end of the first (of four) episode has Rochester telling Jane about Céline Varens, and I really wonder why the exchange “are you still with me, Jane? – I’m here, sir” is there, because it seems really unnecessary and takes away a lot of the atmosphere. Feels really jarring. However, it’s sort of redeemed when Jane asks him:
“Do you still love her, sir?”
“Céline. I mean – Miss Varens.”
“Good GOD no! No, I threw her out of the hotel room and shot him!”
I LOVE that!
Another thing I love are the clothes. 1997, for instance, and of course, the cravat also does its little magic. There’s just something about Toby Stephens in period costume one cannot behold without weakening at the knees ever so slightly., which does a good job at showing the details of the clothes. I’m not going to analyse them, because it’s not my area of expertise, but I like their clothes. Rochester has decidedly nicer breeches here than he did in
The scene following the burning bed is nice, but when Rochester returns from his visit to the tower, OH. MY. GODS. Smouldering! Spontaneous combustion alert! One might be lead to believe Rochester set fire to the bed from just being freakin’ HOT, and I’m not talking about the chesticles on display (… okay, partially I am) but the sheer sexual tension between the two characters as he returns. They are so close to kissing, and they don’t (they only do in JL Niemann’s version) and that’s the beauty of the thing! It’s left as a tension that’s almost palpable, and it’s amazing. None of that faffing about, hovering near the lips like they get up to in the 2011 version.
Err, where was I?
The show goes on. There’s a house party (Christina Cole does her now almost trademark period drama bitch slash ice queen as Blanche Ingram), there’s a gypsy (a woman Rochester pays as opposed to donning the costume himself – odd choice but it kind of works?), there’s Mr Mason, and you should really know the story by now. When it comes to the wedding scene, in the novel, they’re getting married in the summer, but they’re clearly walking to and from the church in spring – look at the daffodils and the bare trees in the background!
This is (as far as I can remember right now, at least) the first adaptation to include Rosamund Oliver. She always gets deleted when Jane’s in Morton, so it’s nice to finally see her.
There are so many things I can say about this adaptation, and most of it is uncontrollable gushing. The problem is that this review has been in the making since January 2010, and a lot has happened since then. When trying to watch bits of this while reading Jane Eyre’s Husband earlier this year, I could hardly stomach it because I was too involved in the characters there, and they’re a lot closer to the original than these ones are. Took one look at Toby Stephens and wanted to cry, “but that’s NOT what he looks like at all!”, not to mention his mannerisms. I didn’t have as strong a reaction when seeing 2011 recently, so maybe I should revisit this before I finish writing this review. After all, this is one of the strongest adaptations ever made. Just a shame it’s only four hours long!
To begin with, I really liked the flashback scene when Jane thinks back to what has happened after the aborted wedding. Well, when I realised it was a flashback because it confused the hell out of me originally. You know the scene, where they’re lying on the bed and Rochester is pulling out all stops to try and convince Jane to stay? And Rochester has the funniest, gravity-defying hair ever? (Seriously, look at it. ANY hair will hang down in your face when you’re face down like that, but Rochester’s hair doesn’t care about gravity, it stays exactly where it is when he’s upright.) I thought it worked quite well. Then, getting more engrossed in the original novel, it started to annoy me. Sure, it’s for a modern audience and sure, Jane still resists him, but it’s still wrong. I can appreciate the scene from an “awwww, how romantic” view, but not from a Jane Eyre purist view.
So I don’t know. As much as this adaptation was what made me fall in love with Jane Eyre Mr Rochester (and Toby Stephens, to be fair) and I love watching it, it’s still not the definitive version. At least this one has good chemistry between the two leads and they play their parts beautifully (although last time I thought Rochester was too upbeat). One thing I thought of when watching 2011, though, was the wedding scene. The look on Rochester’s face in this when the wedding is interrupted is incredibly touching. You can really SEE how much his whole world comes crashing in and how he’s losing everything he cares for. It’s beautifully acted, and none of the other Rochesters have done as good a job of it!
There’s also a stubbornness to Jane, so while she doesn’t look like she’s 18, there’s still that fire lurking underneath. I really do like it. She’s not too meek or harmless, she has some guts.
5 out of 5 flowing scarves.