The story is about Jane Eyre (Mia Wasikowska) and how she must learn to overcome past circumstances and find true happiness for herself- though she may not entirely realize that. We are introduced to her as a young child. She was once an orphan and then mistreated in a rather cold and unwelcoming home that established a great deal of her personality (that she should remain strong and true to herself despite what negative attitudes others might deliver). Eventually, Jane leaves this past behind and becomes a governess for the wealthy and (seemingly) cold Rochester (Michael Fassbender). A romance quietly blossoms between the unlikely pair and yet this romance is placed in danger by a secret Rochester is keeping from Jane - and soon the true colors of Rochester will be shown.
The film does manage to offer many lush visuals and it captivates the mind with that sense of artistic vision quite well at many different points throughout the story. Fukunaga made a film that is unique in its styling's and that differentiates itself in many ways when comparing this film to previous adaptations of the novel. This is a film-maker that absolutely knows how to frame a captivating image and with the director of photography Adriano Goldman the movie has a quiet beauty that can sometimes works wonders.
It's just unfortunate that this adaptation seems to miss the mark in capturing the full spirit of the novel and the story it tells. The PBS Masterpiece Theater version produced in 2007 and directed by Susanna White was vastly superior to this version and it would be wise for audiences who seek an adaptation that can capture the essential elements of the story to seek out that version instead.
When taken on individual performance merits, Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender do an impressive job in bringing genuine emotion and characterization to the screen. Yet both actors lack the ability to create on-screen chemistry between the characters. This is a major flaw in this production. Fukunaga seems to direct them almost as if they are just supposed to be going through the motions of romance because the characters of Jane and Rochester are already guaranteed to wind up together in this version. The approach is undesired and unappreciated with good reason. It is an error in the approach to telling the story. It is also disappointing to find that Wasikowska doesn't manage to portray Jane as strongly as the character is. Judi Dench does help to make these shortcomings a tad more bearable with her undeniably strong performance adding a great deal to the film whenever she is on screen.
The greatest disappointment about this version of Jane Eyre is actually the fact that it gives off a major sense of being inspired and made exactly because of the success of Joe Wright's version of Pride & Prejudice (starring Kiera Knightly). The film doesn't seem to exist to tell the story of Jane Eyre in the best way possible but instead it rather seems to capitalize on the success of a previous cinematic experience that was astonishingly authentic, romantic, and genuine.
It comes as something of a surprise then that the score was composed by Dario Marianelli (who also crafted one of the best scores of all time with the stunningly beautiful Pride & Prejudice). Marianelli start's off the film softly with quiet cues that don't manage to be as noticeable or endearing. As the film progresses the score begins to take flight a bit more. It's a quietly moving score at times. I did enjoy the music and yet I would feel somewhat hesitant to even suggest it as being in the same league of some of his past work. For the record: Marianelli will probably have a very hard time topping his own score to Atonement.
This version of Jane Eyre has beautiful imagery, strong (but misguided) performances, and impressive set and costume designs. It's just not as engaging as it needed to be or as believable in telling the tale. Jane Eyre is a story that should be shared with the world and in the right way. Moira Buffini's screenplay and Cary Joji Fukunaga's direction simply don't give any proper justice to the source material.
Jane Eyre arrives on DVD with a 1:85:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation that preserves the original theatrical aspect ratio. The film features striking cinematography. The bleakness of it is well preserved on this release. Colors are often muted and there is a grainy, film-like texture to the image. It isn't a showstopper but it's quite complimentary to the mood of the movie. There is some softness to the image and the overall presentation would be benefited by the Blu-ray High Definition version (for those who have the option).
The audio on this release fares quite well and although the score by Dario Marianelli is often quietly reserved it sounds fantastic when it has prominence throughout certain sequences of the film. There are few sound effects but the ambiance is strong and dialogue is clean and easy to understand. Jane Eyre is presented with a 5.1 Dolby Digital surround sound track, and subtitles are provided in Spanish, French, and in English (for the deaf and hard of hearing).
The highlight of this entire release is an informative and often technical commentary track by director Cary Joji Fukunaga. Fukunaga covers a lot of ground in how he approached making the film and it should be an engaging listen for fans of the film.
Several deleted scenes are also included, but the lack of insight into why they were cut is a bit disappointing. These are almost non-essential scenes for the most part though (most of them simply reinforce elements that were already on display in the film).
Lastly, a few short and downright annoying PR-style pieces are included: A Look Inside Jane Eyre, To Score Jane Eyre: Cary Fukunaga and Dario Marianelli Team Up, and The Mysterious Light of Jane Eyre. Each segment runs only a few minutes long and none of these pieces really cover much ground. The first two segments are self-explanatory, and the last piece (The Mysterious Light) is about the way the film was lit to emphasis shadow and other elements.
Jane Eyre remains one of the most popular novels in the history of literature and with good reason. The Fukunaga version of the story is not as engaging or faithful as it could have been and the actors fail to create genuine chemistry. It's a beautiful film to look at (with marvelous cinematography) but the film never takes full flight. It's probably still worth a look for fans of the story but it should be seen prior to making a purchase commitment.