Starring: Mia Wasikowska, Michael Fassbender, Judi Dench
Directed By: Cary Fukunaga
Clothes on Film were lucky enough to be invited to a special screening by Volkswagen See Film Differently of Jane Eyre (2011) at Haddon Hall, where much of the movie was shot doubling for Thornfield Hall in the novel. It is an extraordinary location framing a contently methodical love story. This is the beauty of Jane Eyre; conflict lies foremost with the central characters; the complex emotions which drive them.
Costume design by Michael O’Connor, Oscar winner for The Duchess in 2008 provides an impeccable gloss on the film. Characteristic of gothic Victorian dress circa 1840, no longer romantic but guarded and severe; it forms a constricting cord around Jane (Wasikowska) and Mr. Rochester (Fassbender) that intensifies sexual tension throughout. The colour palette is interesting too. In harmony with Will Hughes-Jones’ production design, clothing reflects the generally bleak, brown and blue hue of the seasons.
Jane Eyre is also beautifully acted. Wasikowska and Fassbender make an engaging couple, both performances sincere and humourless (you will have to look towards dependable Judi Dench as Mrs. Fairfax for any laughs), although Wasikowska’s accent veers from broad Yorkshire to Scottish at times. They have chemistry, yet there is coldness between them befitting the upstanding moral theme of book. The entire production is drenched in atmosphere; Jane’s desertion on the moors, the subdued colour palette of the costumes and the murky corridors of Rochester’s tomb-like residence.
Watching this film on location really stirs the imagination. Fear is generated through silence, empathy via a waft of damp and dust from the lower courtyard. In fact, viewing at Haddon Hall perhaps lends unfair potency to director Cary Fukunaga’s sombre adaptation that would be lost elsewhere.
Certainly Jane Eyre bears all the components that make a period drama so appealing, in particular O’Connor’s magnificently stiff frocks and frock coats. All ensembles were made bespoke for the principals, Rochester’s acutely observed and mismatched three piece ‘suit’ (for it is the forerunner) seemingly moulded to the actor’s frame. Jane’s black or patterned grey dresses feature a high, lined and boned bodice at the start of the story. When she selects a slightly lower neckline for her formal introduction to Rochester, a sudden charge of sexual tension is palpable. Jane’s delicate neck is as exposed as her soul; she is vulnerable and attainable.
Another telling costume scene occurs when Jane practically tears an ivory wedding dress from her body. Fukunaga allows his camera to linger on the taut laces suffocating her chest. As Jane gasps for breath, desperate to be free of her binds, we are forced to endure along with her. Costume in early 19th century romance can be a stifling affair for characters and audience; emotions are smothered and must be forced into the open.
Jane Eyre’s primary failing as a feature can be traced to the first twenty minutes. Deviating from Charlotte Brontë’s original text, screenwriter Moira Buffini employs a choppy flashback structure that affects the late arrival of Rochester into the film. Fukunaga then all but abandons the idea in favour of linear storytelling, which is actually a far more comfortable narrative fit. Fassbender and Wasikowska have to work fast in creating magnetism between their repressed protagonists. Admittedly they succeed, although their secretive courtship does feel somewhat rushed.
It is a pleasant surprise that so much of Haddon Hall was utilised in Jane Eyre, both for interiors and exteriors. Thornfield is a character in the book, its beauty, lush gardens and picturesque vistas pushing Jane and Rochester together then suddenly releasing its dark secrets to pull them apart again. Dario Marianelli’s melancholy score, occasionally reminiscent of John Williams’ for Schindler’s List, foreshadows their actions with indicative cues. One can only imagine what an eerily seductive experience it must have been to shoot at Haddon Hall, something purpose built sets with absent ceilings and cutaway walls simply cannot provide.
Jane Eyre is not a perfect adaptation, though with literary purists to satisfy and new audiences to excite, maybe such a concept does not exist. What it does exceptionally well is tell a chaste, yet inescapably sexy love story with depth and passion.
Jane Eyre is released in the UK on 9th September._blank
© 2011 – 2012, Christopher Laverty.