In terms of literary prestige there are few names as valued as Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre. There have been at least eight adaptations of the book starring various stars of screen and stage, but with any classic tale, there is fresh air waiting to be taken in by a new audience. Director Cary Fukunaga (Sin Nombre) accepts this challenge and doesn't disappoint us with his vision.
From the get-go Jane (Mia Wasikowska) battles against her surroundings. The whipping winds and pouring rain of the moor as she attempts to brave her way to St. John Rivers (Jamie Bell) residence. Fukunaga starts off Jane Eyre with Jane as an adult sharing her traumatic upbringing in flashback. It's a nice subversion and one that introduces a stylish aesthetic quickly.
Jane suffered a great deal of abuse in her childhood, it starts at the Reed household at the hands of her aunt and Mr. Brocklehurst and continues in her mind for years afterward. Yet in her new position as governess, Jane has found happiness in Thornfield Hall. That is, until the lord of the manor makes himself known. Rochester (Michael Fassbender) is gruff and minces no words in the company of others, not his faithful servant of many years, Mrs. Fairfax (Judi Dench), nor his ward, Adele.
A man who delights in putting others at unease, Rochester's profile takes a more devilish glee in the flickering light of the fire. This is not Jane and Rochester's first encounter, but their fireside chat is easily one of their most memorable. He aims to put Jane on the spot and she refuses to relent. He was not granted his own happiness, so what delights Rochester may take in are not for consumption by the faint of heart. His calm stare sears straight through Jane, but she meets his glare. A man known for cruelty meets his match.
Gothic romances like these are built on restrained performances from leads with believable chemistry and the "plain" Jane and Rochester have it. These two share forbidden moments the audience knows probably shouldn't happen, but there is an electricity in the air that rivets throughout the film. What Rochester allows Jane to see is a painfully acute self-awareness that he shelters from everyone else.
The entire film is a masterwork of composed shadows and landscapes cloaked in darkness. Cary Fukunaga may not have seemed the ideal candidate to make Jane Eyre, yet given the opportunity, he creates one of the most illustrious and compelling adaptations of all-time.