The new movie version of Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre, directed by Cary Fukunaga, is the equivalent of a Reader's Digest condensed novel. All the elements of the story are evident but the writer's pace, breadth, and strategy are whisked away, reducing Bronte's proto-feminist literary work to melodramatic romance in a spooky mansion.
It would have made a fine 4-hour BBC mini-series, with time to breathe like a fine wine, with its genuinely chilly England in the 19th Century atmosphere and a broad if not probing view of class and sexual discrimination. The lovely on-location scenes from the often handheld camera gives the film a fluidity of movement, absorbing the stuffiness from a classic Gothic love story in the lush English countryside. The supporting cast is as fine as Masterpiece Theatre can provide and the story remains riveting. At a roughly two-hour running time though, key plot elements and character motivation are sacrificed to the beating hearts of a young, plain, sex hungry virgin and an older been-around guy beast.
Jane Eyre, the grand-mommy of Gothic romance novels, tells the story of an orphaned English girl suffering a loveless childhood under the rule of abusive relatives and a cruel school for poor girls. In preparation for a life in servitude to the upper class, the intelligent and contemplative Jane savors the independence of adulthood.
She gains employment as governess to a French ward at Thornfield Manor, a spooky country estate governed by the mysterious and wealthy Mr. Rochester. Despite their difference in social status, chemistry clicks and this odd couple fall in love. For Jane, it would be Gothic romance heaven, if it weren't for a scary madwoman roaming the mansion at night, (the Gothic element), and Rochester's flirtation with the feminine elite, (the romantic conflict).