Arguably the two most faithful Jane Eyre adaptations are the BBC miniseries from 1973 and 1983, respectively. The fanbase is divided over which is the better one on the whole. While I have previously seen the 1983 version, this was actually my first time watching 1973, for this review. It is comprised of 5 episodes of approximately 50 minutes each, and stars Sorcha Cusack as Jane and Michael Jayston as Mr. Rochester. This is the only production I have seen either one of them in.
I do have to say, it is true that this version is very faithful to the novel. This was quite refreshing after seeing all of the older adaptations that changed so much! A lot of the dialogue is lifted right from the book, and most of the characters remain intact and true to their original book selves. The entire series is actually narrated by Jane as well, almost as if she is really reading the book. The result is a faithful adaptation that is sure to please purists, but it didn’t exactly come to life for me, either. The production values are not up to par with modern adaptations, as usual. The narration, while true to the book, was often redundant and just plain unnecessary. There was no need for Jane to tell us what was happening on screen when we could see it ourselves! The actors at times seemed to pause their conversation to make room for the narration. It even made me LOL at a couple points.
Mr. Brocklehurst and Mrs. Reed
The scenes with young Jane at Gateshead are mostly true to the book, except Bessie’s kind personality is cut. A scene I found odd was Mrs. Reed discussing Jane’s subordinate position with her children. It just didn’t seem like a conversation the kids would have! It was also interesting that this version includes a scene, after the typhus outbreak, of Mr. Brocklehurst getting put down by men whom I assume are the school governors, for the terrible conditions he has imposed on the school. The actors for Mr. Brocklehurst and Mrs. Reed are not listed on IMDB, and I don’t have the DVD right now to see if they are in the credits.
Young Jane and Helen Burns
Neither of these actresses is listed on IMDB, either, for some reason! It’s a shame because I liked both of their performances. I actually liked young Jane better than the adult Jane. For once in this version, Helen’s piety is not cut. Their scenes together are very true to the book, including Helen’s death. The only funny thing about it was the actress was clearly breathing when she was supposed to be dead! Miss Temple and Miss Scatcherd are also included and faithful to their book selves, though I don’t recall a mention of Miss Temple marrying later on.
Sorcha Cusack as Jane Eyre
Get used to that expression, folks, because it is the same expression that is on her face for almost the entire miniseries. She had her eyebrows raised the whole time. I don’t know if that was a stylistic choice to make her look uglier, or it was just because she was a newbie at acting. Either way, it was very distracting! Even so, she’s not exactly plain, but not gorgeous either. Certainly more beautiful than her self-portrait.
Jane’s Self Portrait
The scene of Jane painting a portrait of herself and the beautiful Blanche Ingram of her imagination was kept, which was neat to see. As you can see, Jane sees herself as much uglier (and about 20 years older!) than she actually is.
Michael Jayston as Edward Rochester
Aside from those hideous sideburns and eyeliner (seriously, why was he wearing eyeliner???), he is not ugly. He never is, so I guess I just have to get used to it. His performance was pretty true to the book, including the gypsy scene. And he did lose his hand, if not his eye.
Stephanie Beacham as Blanche Ingram
I loved her performance as Blanche. She captured the character’s haughty personality AND she was actually beautiful! What a surprise to see a Blanche that is actually more beautiful than Jane, as she is supposed to be. Rochester did sing to her on the piano, but the charades scene was cut.
Geoffrey Whitehead as St. John Rivers
He was definitely St. John come to life- portrayed St. John’s cold, pious personality perfectly. There was just one thing that bugged me- he’s not handsome! He’s much older than he’s supposed to be and it cracked me up a little to hear Jane telling Rochester later on of how handsome St. John was. Sorry, but no. Rosamund Oliver is cut from this version, which I found very jarring, since almost everything else was left in! That was a vital part of St. John’s character/story in the book and it was disappointing she wasn’t in it.
If I haven’t mentioned anything specifically above, it’s simply because there is nothing to tell. If I haven’t mentioned that something is omitted, chances are, it’s in. Adele, Mrs. Fairfax, Grace Poole, Bertha- they are all true to the book characters and storylines. The visit to Gateshead (minus the Reed sisters) is there, as well as Jane’s inheritance and kinship with the Riverses.
This adaptation was definitely true to the book, so much so that when things were cut out or changed, it was almost shocking. I enjoyed it on the whole, even though it wasn’t magical or anything.
My Rating: 7/10