I first saw the 1996 version of Jane Eyre when I was still in middle school. I believe it was shortly after I first read the book. I didn’t like the book very much on first read, but when I happened to see that the film was playing on one of the movie channels, I decided to give it a shot. The movie was already about halfway through, but I had nothing else to do anyway. What did I think? Let’s just say I was not impressed. I have seen it twice more since then. Once a couple years ago after buying the DVD, and once for this review. How did I feel those times? Still not impressed.
This movie is really just not very good. The story was largely rushed and truncated- especially the ending. I know things have to be cut to fit it into such a short time frame (less than two hours) but I feel it was just handled clumsily. The first two thirds of the movie were just mediocre, nothing to write home about, but the last part was just a mess. The acting was nothing special either. Those who were good were wasted in their too-small roles. Those who were featured more were not very good. The two words that appear most in my notes are “flat” and “emotionless.” It was an all around disappointment, devoid of all of the passion and fire of the book.
Fiona Shaw as Mrs. Reed
Fiona Shaw was very good, but was entirely wasted as Mrs. Reed, in her very limited screen time. Gateshead was way too rushed. All of the Reed children push and attack Jane for no reason and Mrs. Reed locks her in the Red Room. There is no scene of her hiding in the window and John hitting Jane and her fighting back at all. Mr. Brocklehurst comes the next day to take Jane to Lowood. It seems like Mrs. Reed was just sending Jane to school to get rid of her. In this version, she also knows that Jane has an uncle in Madeira. I’m surprised she never tried to locate the guy to get him to take Jane!
Leanne Rowe as Helen Burns and Anna Paquin as Young Jane
Helen is made to be the curly redhead to get her haircut in this, because Jane asks her to let it loose in order to paint her portrait. Anna Paquin is very good as Jane, but the character is even more feisty than in the book. She stands up to Mrs. Reed in front of Mr. Brocklehurst, and she stands up to Brocklehurst again when he makes to cut Helen’s hair- she demands that her hair be cut as well. Helen was good in her limited role, and mentions meeting Jane again in heaven, but as usual, her extreme piety is cut.
Geraldine Chaplin as Miss Scatcherd and John Wood as Mr. Brocklehurst
Miss Scatcherd is made into the headmistress in this for some reason. I guess to make the situation at Lowood even more dire, what with her being on Brocklehurst’s side? Mr. Brocklehurst is evil and does not lose any power in this after the typhus outbreak….because there is no such outbreak. Helen is the only one who is sick.
Amanda Root as Miss Temple
Amanda Root was lovely in the role. Her Miss Temple is just a lowly teacher with no power in this, having to obey both Miss Scatcherd and Brocklehurst in this. She also does not get married, and actually tells an older Jane leaving for Thornfield that she feels it is God’s will that she remain at the school. Poor thing!
Charlotte Gainsbourg as Jane Eyre
Even though she was near 25, she did look the right age for Jane and they did a pretty good job making her look plain. She was way too tall though (with an very long neck) and although she had everything to make a good Jane, she was pretty dull actually. She was even more reserved and quiet than the book Jane, which, given how passionate her younger self was in this, was especially jarring.
Joan Plowright as Mrs. Fairfax
Her Mrs. Fairfax was kind and on the flighty/absent-minded side, but she also had a sort of regal air to her. I could kind of see how Jane would mistake her for the lady of the house. Her distant relationship with Rochester is cut. She also seems to be fully aware that Bertha is Rochester’s wife, but that might just be my imagination.
William Hurt as Edward Rochester
If I thought Gainsbourg’s Jane was lackluster, that was nothing compared to William Hurt’s Rochester. My original feelings on him were “block of wood” and my opinion remains unchanged upon the latest viewing. My above mentioned “flat” and “emotionless” apply to him more than anyone or anything else in this film. Not only did he and Jane not have any chemistry (I’m unsure how they even fell in love in this, since they have so few scenes together), he just didn’t seem to care at all. He was so dull! The proposal scene was so passionless, and even their kissing looked staged (i.e. their lips did not really touch). He did not show Rochester’s brooding/angry side or the humorous side. He just played a block of wood.
Elle Macpherson as Blanche Ingram
Another particularly bad bit of casting. She was horrible! I have not seen her in anything else but I thought she was a model, not an actress? She was pretty, yeah, but she could not act. There was also no scene of Rochester singing, no charades, and no gypsy. They just had one dance together, pretty much.
Edward de Souza as Richard Mason
Odd beard on this guy. I didn’t know Mason was supposed to be that old.
Josephine Serre as Adele Varens
Adele was fine, I guess. I was not really happy about the above pictured scene between her and Rochester, however. They are both missing Jane when she goes back to Gateshead to see a dying Mrs. Reed. Adele leans on Mr. Rochester and he puts his arm around her. Yeah, right. Adele in this version is sent away to school before the wedding. I didn’t buy that Jane would do that, but it turned out to be for a reason.
Maria Schneider as Bertha
She was fine too. Adele was sent away so early in this version because the ending was so rushed. After the aborted wedding, Jane packs and leaves in a carriage immediately. Despite letting her walk out the door, Rochester decides to chase after her on his horse once the carriage is actually moving. He doesn’t get far, however, because he’s called back- Bertha has already started the fire. This is all in the middle of the day, by the way. He doesn’t help any of the servants out, instead going to Grace Poole, who is calling him for help in getting Bertha out. They are on the top stair landing, not on the roof. Bertha pushes Grace over the railing and kills her before jumping herself. We also see Rochester get injured. Kind of ruins any surprise there. I’m only surprised that Jane didn’t see the smoke from the carriage and go back.
Samuel West as St. John Rivers
Two 1995 Persuasion actors in this! St. John in this is the parson of Gateshead, who originally summoned Jane to see a dying Mrs. Reed. After traveling for a while in the carriage, Jane decides to go to see him and Mary (there is no Diana). She does not run out of money and have to wander on the moors, desperate and begging for food. Not at all. Yet she is so exhausted somehow from just the carriage ride that she still has to be in bed for a month at the Rivers’??? Okay. Jane does not work as a teacher. Her inheritance is included, but she is not related to the Rivers. Instead, she gives a portion of her money to the girls at Lowood and part for St. John’s mission work. St. John does propose, and Jane says she will consider it, but the next we see of her is going back to Thornfield. Okay?
Rochester and Mrs. Fairfax are still living at part of Thornfield. Jane never actually learns what happens, she just goes straight inside, ignoring Mrs. Fairfax and then sees that Rochester is blind. His eye is gone, but not hand. They have another stage kiss and then we have the epilogue, which is pretty much intact except that they take Adele in and raise her as their own, which is not exactly the case in the book.
Yeah, this movie was pretty bad. Up until Jane fleeing after the wedding, it was just dull and boring. Then it became truly butchered! Such a waste.
My Rating: 5/10