Having tackled one beloved English literary heroine in Alice In Wonderland, rising star Mia Wasikowska promptly has a crack at another in the latest take on Charlotte Brontë’s 1847 novel.
The elegant, brooding results could hardly be further removed from Tim Burton’s baroque whimsy, or from 2009’s Sin Nombre, the immigrant love story that precedes this film on Cary Joji Fukunaga’s eclectic directorial CV.
But just like Sin’s illegal immigrants, orphan Jane is looking for a place to belong – somewhere where she isn’t resented and mistreated, like the childhood home she shares with her heartless aunt or the Dickensian charity school to which she’s subsequently consigned.
The crumbling pile of Thornfield where she’s hired as governess might seem to be the answer to her prayers. Yet its gloomy, oak-panelled rooms conceal dark secrets that will ultimately come between Jane and Mr Rochester (Michael Fassbender), the enigmatic master of the house whose icy heart she gradually defrosts and whose Byronic machismo captures hers.
Previous versions of this enduring yarn have struggled to incorporate all of its incidents, something screenwriter Moira Buffini tries to sidestep by having Jane flee Thornfield at the start of the narrative, then relate her sorry history in flashback to the clergyman who gives her shelter. The device enables Jamie Bell’s St John to make his presence felt, yet doesn’t mask the plot’s piecemeal, unavoidably episodic structure.
Elsewhere, this Eyre ticks most of the right boxes, Adriano Goldman’s moodily atmospheric photography bringing out the torrid passions of the original text as well as the many variations of the great British weather.
As Rochester, Fassbender again shows he’s one of his generation’s most virile, compelling leading men, in a role (previously played, lest we forget, by one Timothy Dalton) that will do his chances of landing Bond no harm at all.
A bold choice of director, striking visuals and a Rochester to rival Orson Welles’ ensures this doesn’t feel like just one more highbrow period piece or stodgy great-book adap.