How to make Jane Eyre fresh again? Charlotte Bronte’s 1847 classic is one of the best-loved English novels, thanks in part to countless TV adaptations and films, most notably in 1943 with Joan Fontaine and Orson Welles. That’s not even counting the subsequent novels (and their film adaptations) it has wholly or partly inspired, from authors such as Daphne du Maurier, Iris Murdoch and Jean Rhys.
One way forward might be through inspired casting, a second through screenwriting that recognises the needs of film above the desire to represent the story in a more literal fashion (the latter being something the TV mini-series will always be able to do more easily because of its greater duration).
To its advantage this compelling new version, directed by relatively little known American Cary Fukunaga and scripted by English dramatist Moira Buffini, recognizes both of these imperatives. The moorland setting is beautifully bleak, the cinematography splendid, and the screenplay pitches straight in without plodding through all of the book’s first part. As the self-possessed governess Jane, Mia Wasikowska is perfection – relatively plain, the right age (early 20s) and charismatic, while Michael Fassbender’s Mr Rochester is all glowering vigour. Pure pleasure.