Skip to main content

Why Every Film Jane Eyre Sucks

Another Jane Eyre? There have already been, by my very rough count, 3,485 filmed versions of the Charlotte Bronte classic made since the Lumiere brothers first put moving shadows up on a screen--and now director Cary Fukunaga (who apparently saw an over-crowded market and thought, "Me, too!) has added his version to the list. Still, I wanted to see this latest interpretation of the proto-feminist classic, if only to see how badly the screenwriter and director screwed it up.

Does that sound harsh? Let me explain by repeating what almost every film critic (and literary scholar) has said about the book: it is unfilmable. The greatness of Jane Eyre (and it is great, though I wonder sometimes if it's actually good--but that's an essay for another day), almost exclusively arises from two sources: the unique voice of its narrator, Jane; and the enigmatic charm of Mr. Rochester. These two strengths of the novel simply don't translate well to screen, because both are essentially about interiority.

Showing the inner workings of an outwardly placid personality isn't an area in which film often excels. Viewed externally, Jane Eyre is hardly a romantic heroine. Repeatedly described as plain, she is also seen as sullen, self-righteous, and cold--hardly qualities we associate with a romantic (or Romantic) heroine. Yet, because Jane tells us her own story, because we are allowed to glimpse the inner workings of her mind and heart, she is imbued with life, passion, and fire. Jane is possessed of a keen mind and insightful voice which makes her a wonderful first-person narrator--it is the contrast between who we know her to be and how others perceive her that create much of the book's dramatic tension. However, short of just resorting to voice-over every 30 seconds, most of her insight and wit simply doesn't translate from page to screen. In fact, in a rather clumsy attempt to capture that voice, the classic 1944 version, with Orson Welles horribly miscast as Rochester, actually shows pages of the book on screen to supplement the action. Needless to say, it's not 100% effective.

Film would seem more conducive to capturing Mr. Rochester's allure, except for one major point: he's ugly and weird. Well, at least not handsome. His lack of physical beauty is commented on again and again--and yet almost every movie adaptation fills his role with, well, a movie star. Even when he's played by a character actor, he's still far more handsome than written, leading to ridiculous scenes in which Michael Fassbender is told that he's not handsome. Puh-lease. Added to his relative ugliness is Rochester's intense strangeness--he's distant and moody and deeply weird. My favorite scene in the book, where Rochester dresses up as a Gypsy fortune teller for the sole purpose of trying to find out whether Jane likes him, has never been filmed--never. It's simply too bizarre and needy an act, but that's who Rochester is. He's sad and ugly and desperately lonely. Through Jane's eyes as the narrator, his faults are transformed into mysteries. Viewed impartially and unmediated, he's a rather unappealing figure.

An unappealing hero and an unknowable heroine--these are not the makings of romantic cinema. And yet. And yet. The story has spoken to people for generations, precisely because it is such a vivid depiction of the inner workings of the human spirit. It's only natural that filmmakers for generations have tried to capture the book's magic on film. But it's the nature of Jane Eyre's magic that it can't be watched--it has to be experienced. In short, i t has to be read.

Oh, how was the movie? Eh, it wasn't bad...but nowhere near as good as the book.


  1. We have similar blogging schedules. ;-)

    This is a great analysis. I think a huge problem is the cinema version of Jane Eyre has become so iconic that all other releases are simply a variation of a theme rather than the source material. (The Handsome Rochester always threw me as well - although, to be honest, the whole book got my feminist panties in such a bunch that it never ranked as a favorite of the period.)


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Prague Blog: Preliminary -- Why?

Since I decided to uproot my entire life, move to a country I have never visited, and train in a career I have no experience with, people have often asked me, "Why?" I'm sure that many of them likely were wondering 'WHY?!?!?!" but, if so, they were polite enough to hide that fact. So, here, as the first (unofficial, preliminary) installment of my Prague Blog, I thought I would try to make the case for why this isn't a completely ridiculous thing to do.

The first starting premise for this is probably a key facet of my personality: I don't like things. Not, "there are things I don't like," but rather, on the whole, I don't care about physical things. I am not a thing person.* To a lesser extent, but still worth mentioning, I am not a creature comforts person. It is true that I go a bit stir crazy when I don't have access to walkable shops, etc., and I do have a great fondness for hot and cold running water and HVAC , but my needs in t…

Prague Blog: Preliminary -- What I Leave Behind

This post if pretty melancholy, and more personal than I often get. If you want more like this (or less), one way to ask is to go to, become a Patron, and then exercise your right to request something more cheerful in the future.


When I first made the decision to move to Prague, I focused solely on the opportuity it presented. Once the decision had been made, however, I started to think of practicalities. Like, how good is their internet speed? (About the same as the USA's, if not better.) How much are smokes? (About $4.50 USD--yes, I know I should quit, but I would rather quit because I want to rather than because it's too expensive.) What's the gay scene like? (So thriving the NYT did a piece on it.) Do they have Pizza Hut? (The chain is returning to Prague this year after a 13 year hiatus.)

Generally, the things that make my life not just tolerable but enjoyable will be available in abundance. Oh, to be sure, t…

Prague Blog: Preliminary -- The Things I'm Carrying, in Video Form

In Book II of the Iliad, Homer (let's just call the author that) enumerates the forces that sailed from Greece to lay siege on Troy, and then does a similar, smaller listing of the Trojan force. The "Catalogue of Ships," as it's known, stops the forward momentum of the epic to make sure the reader understands the scene on the plains outside Troy. At the same time, it establishes a great deal about the power dynamics at play, and provides us greater insight into the characters involved. Sometimes, what (or who) you own can speak volumes about who you are. In that spirit, but with none of the grandeur, I'm making a list of all the things I kept when I left my apartment and, more to the point, all the things I am taking to Prague with me.

The first category is things I'm keeping but not taking. This includes about a hundred books, mostly from my time at St. John's; a Johnnie chair, a college graduation present from my mother; various small items of sentiment…