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Classic Romance 'Jane Eyre' Gets New Makeover

  • Alan Silverman

Mia Wasikowska stars in the film Jane Eyre, a Focus Features release directed by Cary Fukunaga

Mia Wasikowska stars in the film Jane Eyre, a Focus Features release directed by Cary Fukunaga

One of the world's most popular romantic novels, first published in 1847, has been made into more than 25 feature films and television adaptations. The latest to take on the Charlotte Bronte classicJane Eyre is American director Cary Joji Fukunaga with Australia-born Mia Wasikowska in the title role.

"Your gaze is very direct, Miss Eyre. Do you think me handsome?"
"No sir."
"You're afraid of me."
"I'm not afraid."

A fictional memoir of a survivor in an often-cruel world, Jane Eyre follows the orphaned heroine from an abusive childhood to her teenage and young adult years as governess at Thornfield Hall. There, amid the windswept moors, Jane meets the love of her life, the moody and mysterious Mr. Rochester.

"Jane, of whom do you think I speak?"
"Of Miss Ingram."
"I'm asking what Jane Eyre would do to secure my happiness."
"I would do anything for you, sir: anything that was right."

Alas, the course of love does not run smooth for the heroine of the novel by Charlotte Bronte. Great obstacles stand in the way of happiness for Jane and Rochester.

Mia Wasikowska was on screen last year as a contemporary California teenager in the Oscar-nominated "The Kids Are All Right." The young Australian considers Jane Eyre - both the story and the character - just as relevant and relatable.

Mia Wasikowska as Jane Eyre in "Jane Eyre"

Mia Wasikowska as Jane Eyre in "Jane Eyre"

"She is a real independent thinker and has such a strong sense of who she is and what is right and wrong, despite what society tells her. At the same time, she is very reserved," Wasikowska says. "The book, start to finish, is her internal monologue. Everything we know is what we are told directly from her, so the challenge when you adapt that to screen is how do you keep all that intensity of and feeling and everything she is thinking."

"Am I a machine without feelings? Do you think that because I am poor, obscure, plain and little that I am soulless and heartless? I have as much soul as you and full as much heart …and if God had blessed me with beauty and wealth I could make it as hard for you to leave me as it is for I to leave you."

Director Cary Joji Fukanaga on the set of "Jane Eyre"

Director Cary Joji Fukanaga on the set of "Jane Eyre"

"What makes Jane Eyre different in terms of a romance story [is] she is the one dictating the terms of the relationship and not him. That is rare," explains director Cary Joji Fukunaga. He says he knows this latest version will be compared with all of the previous films. But Fukunaga says what matters to him is how it compares with the original novel.

"What I really wanted to do was achieve the tone that Charlotte Bronte had naturally written into the story," he says. "Quite often in other adaptations, the more suspenseful, gloomy, horror elements of the story are not necessarily included in the film. Those adaptations treat the story more like a period romance, a straight love story. But there are supernatural scenes in the book that are iconic. Scenes like the "red room" as a child or the woman locked in the attic and wandering around the house [making] bumps in the night. "

English actor Jamie Bell plays St. John Rivers, a minister whose family takes in Jane when circumstances force her to flee Thornfield Hall and disguise her identity. Bell admits he was skeptical about yet another adaptation.

Mia Wasikowska (left) and Jamie Bell (right) in "Jane Eyre"

Mia Wasikowska (left) and Jamie Bell (right) in "Jane Eyre"

"To be honest, I am not a fan of period dramas," admits Bell, "I think, being English, they are so shoved down your throat. When you're a kid you read it in school, you watch it on TV and it is on TV when you come home from school. We understand aesthetically what these period dramas look like. You know, it looks pretty and everyone is kind of nice and they talk funny. Their values are kind of strict and a conversation about matchbooks is incredibly intellectual all of a sudden. But, the truth is, I never really experienced what it feels like to be in that time and in our 'Jane Eyre,' going into all of these places - and the film is very much shot from her perspective - we get a sense of what that must feel like."

Star Mia Wasikowska believes the enduring appeal is that Jane Eyre continues to be a role model, even more than 160 years since her story first appeared in print.

"She's such an important role for women and particularly young women," notes Wasikowska. "What I loved about her is she has this inherent sense of self-respect. There is nowhere that should have come from. It's not like she had a loving upbringing or anything. Everything that she's achieved or has become is because of what she has made herself. Also there is something inside of her that makes her believe she is worthy of being treated right and being loved and respected, and she puts herself first."

The cast of Jane Eyre also features Irish actor Michael Fassbender as Rochester. Dame Judi Dench plays Mrs. Fairfax, the warm-hearted housekeeper at cold Thornfield Hall. The screenplay is by playwright Moira Buffini and the soundtrack music is by Oscar-winner Dario Marianelli.