The 1997 version of Jane Eyre was originally shown on ITV and runs for only 108 minutes. It stars Samantha Morton as Jane and Ciaran Hinds as Rochester. I originally saw it as it reran on television here in the US several years ago, missing only the very beginning (I turned to the channel during Helen’s death scene). I purchased a (new!) DVD for only a dollar on Amazon Marketplace within the last couple years and watched it again when I received it. This time, for the review, makes for the third time.
I didn’t like this version the first time I watched it. Or the second. Or even now, the third, sadly. It is way too short and rushed- leading to a lot being cut from the novel, the production values are little better than older versions from the 80s and before, and a lot of the casting and characterizations do not ring true to the book characters (for me, at least). A lot of voice-over is used, but it’s not from the book (or at least the majority is not). Instead, most seems to be used to truncate scenes and just tell the audience what has happened rather than to show it. It’s not exactly horrible (there are a few good points), but this adaptation is just way too truncated for me to enjoy it.
Just like the 1996 version, this one starts with Jane immediately being put in the Red Room. Then Brocklehurst comes to take her. The Reeds have even less of a presence here, though. Deborah Findlay as Mrs. Reed is given little to do other than talk to Brocklehurst about Jane’s faults, and the children don’t do anything at all, really. We do get to see a bit of Bessie, at least. Again, in this version, Jane stands up to Mrs. Reed in front of Brocklehurst. While Jane does go to visit Mrs. Reed later on, we do not get to see that visit- just Jane leaving and then coming back. And Rochester complaining that Jane has written to everyone, including Pilot (yes), except him during that time.
Gemma Eglinton as Helen Burns and Laura Harling as Young Jane
Neither of them is really given anything to do, aside from Jane standing up to Mrs. Reed. The death scene is included but Helen’s piety, and indeed her entire personality, is nowhere to be seen. Unfortunately most of the Lowood scenes are only told through voice-over, so aside from Mr. Brocklehurst’s visit (which is kept), and the death scene, that’s all we get to see. Helen dies of typhus in this one.
Samantha Morton as Jane Eyre
The only other thing I’ve ever seen Samantha Morton in was the ITV Emma, which I also didn’t like too much. She didn’t impress me here either. She looked the part well enough. She was very close to the right age and they did their best to make her look plain, but I wasn’t fond of her performance. She was at times very reserved and meek, other times more confident and defiant. Her attitude with Rochester was quite rude and insubordinate in their conversations.
Ciaran Hinds as Edward Rochester
I usually love Ciaran Hinds (especially as Wentworth in Persuasion) but this was the exception. Like Samantha Morton, he looked the part, but that’s as far as it went. I hated his portrayal as Rochester. I doubt that he ever read the book. Even so, I don’t know what the whole production team was thinking. Whereas William Hurt was too subdued and emotionless, Hinds was the exact opposite, constantly getting angry and whiny to the point of shouting every line. It was ridiculous. He and Jane had absolutely no chemistry, and if she didn’t tell us in the voice-over that she was growing fond of him, we wouldn’t know it. In their scenes together, such as the proposal, Morton underacted and Hinds overacted to the point that it was ridiculous. The kissing looked rather uncomfortable to both parties. They may as well have fake kissed, like in 1996.
Timia Berthome as Adele
Adele was fine, but Rochester was way too affectionate with her in this. He holds her on his lap, gives her presents, and teases her. He does not seem to resent her presence because of her mother at all. Speaking of affectionate, he is also that way with Bertha- holding her to him like a child and kissing the top of her head. She is kept in a padded room. I know Rochester’s treatment of Bertha was actually enlightened and unconventional for the time, but I think that was taking it a bit too far.
Abigail Cruttenden as Blanche Ingram
I feel evil and shallow for saying this, but she was not beautiful enough. Blanche’s two big (only) characteristics are that she is beautiful and haughty. Cruttenden was neither. She was actually very kind and sweet to Adele, and only showed hints of her original nature (wanting Rochester’s money). And I actually didn’t find her attractive at all. She looked almost masculine to me. Maybe her strong features and jawline coupled with the girly hairstyle accentuated it, I don’t know. The charades and gypsy scene were both cut, but there was a bit with her reading Rochester’s palm.
Gemma Jones as Mrs. Fairfax
I liked her in the role (one of the few high points) and she actually looked more like a housekeeper than some others to have played Mrs. Fairfax. She apologizes tearfully to Jane after the aborted wedding and the reveal of Bertha, insisting she thought Bertha was Adele’s mother, but not that she and Rochester were married. That’s probably along the same lines of what Mrs. Fairfax thought in the book, and I actually liked getting a concrete answer as to the extent of her knowledge in this version.
Rupert Penry-Jones as St. John and Elizabeth Garvie as Diana Rivers
Yes, we have two Captain Wentworths in this! And RPJ is actually a very handsome St. John, for once. Unfortunately, the whole ending including the Rivers storyline was very rushed, and frankly, all wrong. Jane leaving Thornfield is not the moving, sorrowful scene that it is in the book and some other adaptations. It’s all anger. Jane does not seem sad or conflicted. She holds her head up high as she leaves. Rochester is just angry and yelling, as usual. He tells Jane she is too predictable and needs to be more original, accusing her of only wanting to become mistress of Thornfield- even saying she is no better than Blanche. Jane does wander on the moors for a bit before collapsing and being found by St. John, but there is none of the begging or desperation from the book.
Although St. John is actually good-looking for once, his personality was nothing like his book self. He was actually a very warm and kind, understanding guy, always with a smile on his face. Um, what? Elizabeth Garvie, while I liked her as Elizabeth Bennet, was way too old to be Diana. (This time Mary is the sister to get cut). But that doesn’t really matter anyway, as she does essentially nothing. After Jane wakes up (and does not hide her identity) it skips ahead two months to her working as a teacher. Then it skips ahead to St. John proposing (in which Jane’s only argument is that they barely know each other) before she hears Rochester and runs back to Thornfield immediately. There is no inheritance, no Rosamund, nothing. Rochester, as usual, did not lose an eye or hand. There is a brief epilogue, in which their elder child is clearly a girl for some reason, and that’s it.
Like I said, way too rushed and truncated. And even what we did get ranged from poor to mediocre. The very few decent parts were nowhere near enough to make me like it. I have no desire to watch it again.
My Rating: 5/10