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Jane Eyre Movies

Updated on March 24, 2011

Jane Eyre on DVD

Jane Eyre (Movie Tie-in Edition) (Vintage Classics)
Jane Eyre (Movie Tie-in Edition) (Vintage Classics)

Jane Eyre 1847: Charlotte Bronte's novel.


Jane Eyre: The Battle To Adapt A Beloved Novel In Film

The modern novel was only only about 100 years old when Charlotte Bronte (writing as Currer Bell) published "Jane Eyre" in 1847. The idea of telling a made-up tale in prose rather than poetry was pretty new stuff, and the medium of the novel offered writers an exciting new way to craft a story.

In the early 20th century, moving pictures were the exciting new art form of the day. And almost since directors were first able to capture movement on film, directors and filmmakers have vied to capture the power, the passion, the essence of "Jane Eyre" on film.

At least nine "definitive" Jane Eyres have been shot since 1934, and countless other less-well-known versions of the book have also been attempted. Some of these have been standard feature films, like the latest feature film directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga. Others have been lavish BBC miniseries.

No film adaptation of "Jane Eyre" has satisfied hard core "Jane Eyre" fans nearly as much as the book has satisfied, and I would argue that none has yet reached the pinnacle of film adaptation perfection that the BBC achieved with its 1995 adaptation of "Pride and Prejudice" starring Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle.

As an ardent fan of the book and many of the film versions of "Jane Eyre," I invite as many directors, actors and screenwriters who wish to keep trying to perfect this wonderful, complicated novel.

Jane Eyre
Jane Eyre

Jane Eyre 1943: Joan Fontaine and Orson Welles.


What Makes "Jane Eyre" A Hard Book To Capture As A Movie

Even had movies existed when Bronte wrote "Jane Eyre," this is a story that always will work best as a novel. Why? For one thing, it is hard for a camera to capture a character's inner state unless the actor and director and film crew are all very, very good, and much of what makes Jane is internal.

More difficult than doing justice to the characters Bronte created, though, is doing justice to her plot. Most people think of "Jane Eyre" as a classic love story, or maybe even a Gothic love story, but nevertheless a love story in which a governess, Jane, falls in love with her employer, Mr. Rochester.

The love affair between Jane and Rochester is obviously a huge part of the book and plot, but it is just one of three parts to the book. Part One is Jane's childhood at Gateshead and Lowood School. Part Two is set at Thornfield Hall and includes the love affair between Jane and Rochester. Part Three, when Jane is at Moor House and with St. John Rivers, is as critical to the story as Rochester and the Mad Woman in the Attic, but it is not well understood and is almost always skipped or glossed over by film makers. "Jane Eyre" cannot hold together without this third section; Jane and the decisions she makes to reach her ultimate fate make no sense without this third section; yet filmmakers do not know what to do with this third section. It is too subtle, too Christian, too long to work well on film. Yet the story doesn't work without it.

DVDs for Lovers of Jane Eyre

Masterpiece Theatre: The Bronte Collection (Jane Eyre / Wuthering Heights)
Masterpiece Theatre: The Bronte Collection (Jane Eyre / Wuthering Heights)

The 2006 Jane Eyre with Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte.


Jane Eyre Caught On Film: A Videography Timeline

2011: Starring Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender. A Very good feature film version that is faithful to the novel. (Read review below)

2006: Starring Ruth Wilson and Toby Stephens. A BBC miniseries. He is a good Rochester, but Wilson's Jane is too soft and weak. This version also skips Jane's past.

1997: Starring Samantha Morton and Ciarán Hinds. Another BBC miniseries. Rochester here is certainly wild (almost Heathcliff wild, versus the barely-controlled rage, fatalism and outrage that I think are Rochester's hallmark), but Morton's Jane is all wrong: a bossy, strong-minded talker. In the book, Jane knows her mind, but is shy and reserved. Her strength lies within, not through bossiness. Dialogue is changed from the book and Blanche Ingram is blond!

1996: Starring William Hurt and Charlotte Gainsbourg. A feature film. Just terrible. William Hurt is all wrong for Rochester. It gets worse from there and butchers some of the best lines of dialogue from the book. Why mess with Bronte's words when you don't have to? No Hollywood script writer is going to be able to put words in Jane's mouth better than Bronte herself did.

1983: Starring Zelah Clarke and Timothy Dalton. BBC Miniseries. This is the definitive miniseries of the book. It is long and faithful enough to include all three parts, though Part Three remains problematic here. Dalton is too handsome for a Rochester, but he acts the part well. There's not quite enough Gothic horror here.

1973: Starring Sorcha Cusack and Michael Jayston. BBC Miniseries. Jane narrates this version, which doesn't work as well as Bronte's direct address of the reader in the novel ("Dear reader..."). This Jane has a constant smirk or arched eyebrows, and is far too sophisticated.

1970: Starring Susannah York and George C. Scott. TV Miniseries. The actors here, Jane in particular, are far too old for their roles. This version leaves out Jane's childhood with the Reids at Gateshead.

1943: Starring Joan Fontaine and Orson Welles. Feature film. This film version, which was nominated for Best Picture and Best Actress Oscars, is good on Jane's childhood. While Fontaine's acting is good, her characterization of Jane is off; her Jane is meek rather than quietly strong-willed.

1934: Starring Virginia Bruce and Colin Clive. Feature Film. Probably the worst adaptation; it certainly leaves out more of what is in the book while making up new things to put in the story. There is no Helen Burns here.

Other Books You Might Like

A 21st Century Jane Eyre: Review of the New Jane Eyre Movie

2011 welcomes the return of Jane Eyre to the Big Screen. This is a lavish, high profile production that has generated plenty of buzz before even hitting wide release. 

The buzz is deserved. The latest "Jane Eyre" movie is one of the best I have seen, the more so for having just two hours to cover all of Bronte's intricate plot. Miniseries have more rope with which to hang themselves by getting it wrong, but they also have more time to devote to each of the three stages of Jane's life. Cary Joji Fukunaga makes judicious choices when she strays from the book, as with the opening scene. This version tries to be as faithful to the spirit of the book as it is to its dialogue and plot. By remaining faithful to that spirit, deviations from the plot and omissions are less of a weakness than they would otherwise be. This version is so good, in fact, I am disappointed by how many scenes from the book had to be cut. I wonder what Fukunaga would have done with the gypsy scene, for example.

Here are some of the pros and cons of the film, as I see it.

Strengths of Jane Eyre (2011)

  • Good acting and pretty good casting. The actors playing Jane and Rochester understand their characters and convey an awful lot with a look or a gesture. I'd say Rochester is a bit too handsome and not nearly scary or brusque enough, but aside from that, I believe that I am watching Jane and Rochester on screen. The supporting cast is also strong, though inconsequential in this version.
  • The movie opens with Jane's flight from Thornfield Hall and arrival with the Rivers family. Her childhood with Aunt Reid and at Lowood is covered as a flashback (perhaps the past she shares with the Rivers family), and given the time limitations of a feature film, this struck me as clever.
  • The landscape is indeed bleak; nothing looks too pretty or too comfortable, and there is a real sense of the Gothic here. Also, in the book, the natural world is almost a character of its own. Jane's moods are often reflected in her surroundings, and key moments in the plot find echo or expression in Jane's environment. The movie is faithful to this.
  • There is a real attempt to include the critical parts of Part Three here, St. John's proposal and Jane's refusal, though I am not sure it is clear enough what is happening or why to someone who doesn't know the book well.
  • Much of the dialogue is straight from the book, so the tone is right. Jane and Rochester's intelligence and wit are most apparent here.

Weaknesses of Jane Eyre (2011)

  • Jane's experiences at Lowood School and especially her friendship with Helen Burns are barely covered, and those are critical to forming her character. Though short, the scenes in the Reid household capture a lot in short order, though that Red Room could be much scarier.
  • Jane is not enough off balance or clued in to a mystery at Thornfield Hall. Where is Bertha's disquieting nighttime laughter? Where are Jane's suspicions of Grace Poole? In the book, Jane knows something is not right at Thornfield; that isn't apparent in this film.
  • Rochester is not menacing or cruel enough. In the book, Rochester repeatedly teases Jane — he forces her to sit and talk with him; he torments her with Blanche Ingram; his moods shift quickly. He also is too handsome here.


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    • Learn Things Web profile image

      Learn Things Web 5 years ago from California

      I really don't like it when classics I've read are made into movies. They always disappoint. It would make far more sense to do them as TV serials.

    • s.carver profile image

      s.carver 6 years ago from San Francisco

      Thanks, booksasmovies. Yes, it seems like Jane Eyre must be one of the books most frequently made into a movie. Maybe only Great Expectations has been done more often?!

    • s.carver profile image

      s.carver 6 years ago from San Francisco

      Thanks. Jane Eyre is my favorite book of all time, so as research goes, thosone is pretty painless!

    • profile image

      Dave Gertler 6 years ago

      Nice overview of Jane Eyre films! I have made a site with a similar summary of those films (other than the 1970, which I plan to see soon), along with far more detailed reviews of each one. Our opinions are often similar, though we'll have to agree to disagree about Ruth Wilson's 2006 performance as Jane! Please take a look:

    • Cogerson profile image

      UltimateMovieRankings 7 years ago from Virginia

      Awesome hub, I enjoyed reading it, thank you for doing such detailed research......voted up

    • s.carver profile image

      s.carver 7 years ago from San Francisco

      Thanks, Painted Seahorse. As you can see, a topic I love!

    • Painted Seahorse profile image

      Brittany Rowland 7 years ago from Woodstock, GA

      Great hub! I really enjoyed the latest movie and agree with you on most of the points you made. It was an interesting choice they made, reframing the story so the film starts with Jane arriving at Moor House. You're right that too often the Rivers section of the novel doesn't get justice in the films. Well done!

    • s.carver profile image

      s.carver 7 years ago from San Francisco

      Thanks, Simone. I really loved the movie, but maybe that's because I was lucky enough not to see any previews first?! A friend sent me this review, which got me pretty excited:

    • Simone Smith profile image

      Simone Haruko Smith 7 years ago from San Francisco

      Great Hub! I agree that it's rather impossible to do justice to Jane Eyre in movie form, though I am intrigued to see some of the films you've mentioned. I don't know if I could watch the latest one, though... as much as I want to like it, something about the preview makes my stomach turn!

    • s.carver profile image

      s.carver 7 years ago from San Francisco

      Thanks, Jane Bovary and prairieprincess. JB: I also am more affected by Jane Eyre than Wuthering Heights, though that is being re-made into a new movie, too! And pp: I also have reread Jane many times. It's been about a decade, so I am due, but from the time I first read it at 12 or 13, I read Jane every five years at least. And each time, it was like a different book, based on what was going on in my life or my own maturity. A rich and satisfying novel for sure!

    • prairieprincess profile image

      Sharilee Swaity 7 years ago from Canada

      Wow! This is exciting ... definitely a film I would love to go see! I have not seen of the films, but absolute adore the book, and have read it at least three times. Loved this hub ... very well-written and informative. Thanks for writing!

    • Jane Bovary profile image

      Jane Bovary 7 years ago from The Fatal Shore

      I read Jane Eyre when I eighteen and it affected me deeply...more than Emily's Wuthering Heights. There were so many different elements to Jane Eyre...the miserable childhood, the passionate love, the exotic French child, the controlled repression downstairs and the wild *id* upstairs, as represented by Grace Poole. Phew! all very hard to translate to film, I agree.

      Thanks for the review!

    • s.carver profile image

      s.carver 7 years ago from San Francisco

      Thanks North Wind and Giselle Maine. As you can see, I love Jane Eyre! North Wind: I have read Wide Sargasso Sea. How creative the author was to try to tell the story from Berth'a point of view!

    • profile image

      Giselle Maine 7 years ago

      Interesting hub, great topic & well-researched.

    • North Wind profile image

      North Wind 7 years ago from The World (for now)

      Interesting, I did not even know there was a Jane Eyre movie this year. You are right parts of the story are hard to capture. Have you by any chance read the story of how the woman in the attic became mad called Wide Sargasso Sea? It was not written by Bronte but it finishes the mystery of it all.


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