The 1983 version of Jane Eyre is the second adaptation of the novel that I saw (and the first that I watched in full). The first one I saw was the 1996 version, but only the second half, so that doesn’t really count. My 9th grade class watched a portion of it after reading the book (at 11 episodes a half hour long each, it was too long for us to spend so much class time on!). I later checked it out of the library to watch it in full. I remember I wasn’t too impressed with my first viewing.
But first impressions do change! I have seen it again since then (and once more now for the review) and I like it more each time. Like the 1973 version, it is very faithful to the book. I preferred it, on the whole, to that one as well. The acting is much better, overall, and it does not have such intrusive, redundant voice-overs. Some very minimal narration by Jane was used at times, but only for transitional purposes- not in the middle of scenes so that the characters have to work their conversation around it. This version includes even more scenes than 1973 as well- such as more of Bessie’s personality from the book, Miss Temple’s marriage, the grown-up Eliza and Georgiana, and more of Jane’s journey on the moors before being taken in by the Riverses.
It was not perfect, however. In addition to the usual stagey production values of the time, there were a few flaws throughout that bothered me. Not every single thing from the book was kept, of course. One cut scene, in particular, really upset me- Helen Burns’ death. This was a crucial scene from the book, which for some reason was not kept in this version! Yet we did get an added scene of Rochester meeting with Briggs after Jane has left Thornfield, trying to make sure she is alright. I found that scene very odd, because Jane wasn’t present. We should have kept Helen’s death instead!
Judy Cornwell as Mrs. Reed
I found the Gateshead portion to be pretty underwhelming in this version. The Reeds just didn’t seem intimidating enough. John Reed, for instance, looked practically punier than Jane. She had no reason to be afraid of him. She looked like she could (and indeed she did) easily take him in a fight. Mrs. Reed, as pictured, looked too old to be the mother of such young children. These scenes were not bad, but could have been just a little better.
Sian Pattenden as Young Jane
I’ve thought all the young Janes were really cute so far, and she is no exception. I think I like her a little better than 1973. I think her acting and look was just a little better. But I kind of think I like the actress from 1970 better than both of them. Hmm.
Robert James as Mr. Brocklehurst
Very true to the book. Just as in the novel, he lost some power after the typhus outbreak, but due to his connections was able to keep his position and was not put down so severely as in 1973.
She is not credited on IMDB. Her character with all her piety was intact, but my biggest pet peeve with this miniseries concerns Helen. THEY CUT HER DEATH SCENE! One of the saddest, most tragic scenes in the book and other adaptations is when Helen dies in Jane’s arms. But not so here. The sickness outbreak is described, Jane learns Helen is ill and can’t see her, and then we cut to her grave. It was so disappointing that with everything this version includes, that such a key scene was cut. For shame!
Zelah Clarke as Jane Eyre
I thought she looked a little too old (I think the actress was close to 30) but overall she had the right look for Jane. They did their best to make her look plain (that severe, unflattering hairstyle helped) and she was pretty tiny. I was happy with her performance, overall. Definitely better than Sorcha Cusack and her eyebrows. Her hair actually moved and got mussed at times. More time was spent on her advertising to leave Lowood in this version. That’s one thing I could have done without in favor of Helen’s death instead.
Timothy Dalton as Rochester
My favorite thing about this adaptation. Yes, he was definitely too handsome, but he’s probably my top Rochester to date. He really made the character come to life and his scenes with Jane oozed chemistry. His past with Celine Varens was kept intact and he actually did a believable gypsy scene. (His face was covered and he did a decent job disguising his voice). And this is the first (and possibly only?) adaptation to have him lose his eye AND hand.
Jean Harvey as Mrs. Fairfax
Something kept nagging me about her whenever she spoke. She looked, and especially sounded, so familiar. Yet I couldn’t place what I had seen her in. It turns out she played Mrs. Reed in the 1973 version!
Mary Tamm as Blanche Ingram
I was not impressed with this version’s Blanche. The never really focused on her, which was just as well, because she was not all that beautiful. The charades scene was included, at least.
Andrew Bicknell as St. John Rivers
He had the height and overall appearance of St. John, as well as the cold and rigid personality and piety. He wasn’t quite handsome enough but overall he was good. Jane almost looked like she was going to finally give in and agree to marry him at one point, before going back to Rochester. And…
Moira Downie as Rosamund Oliver
This is the first (and one of the very few) adaptations to include Rosamund Oliver! I was really happy that she was finally shown, but unfortunately, she was not in it enough to show that she and St. John were really in love. Oh well, at least she was there.
This is my favorite of all the versions up to this point. Unfortunately, it is not perfect. So much was kept in that the cuts they did make irritated me even more than they would have otherwise.
My Rating: 8/10