Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 21 December 2014

How I found love in the Eyre in this new classic

Frances Burscough
Frances Burscough

Girls, do yourselves a favour and get thee to a cinema this weekend.

The greatest chick-flick of them all is now showing and it would be a terrible shame to miss it. And no, I’m not talking about Friends With Benefits — that new blockbuster starring Mila Kunis and Justin Timberlake as ‘bonk buddies’ who inevitably end up falling in love against all the odds (yes, that story again ... ) or any other of the countless so-called rom-coms that are cynically churned out every few minutes and are forgotten almost as quickly.

No, this is the real deal, the most timeless and enduring love story ever told about a heroine we should all aspire to be and a romance that transcends and defeats all manner of adversity.

Still puzzled? Then I’ll give you a clue: “Reader, I married him.”

Yes, of course, It’s Jane Eyre. The Remake. Of the remake, of the remake ...

There have of course been many interpretations of this gothic masterpiece over the years and, as a life-long Brontëphile, I’ve watched each one with a very keen eye. But the last three screen adaptations have been the most expensive and lavish of them all. (Ironic, really, when it’s a story about austerity and the corruption of wealth, but still )

All were filmed in the same magnificent location of Haddon Hall in Derbyshire, a place visited by the author in 1840s and believed by many to have been the original inspiration for Thornfield Hall. But therein the similarities of the three begin and end.

The Zeffirelli version in 1996 fell flat due to lacklustre performances by its two completely miscast lead characters. William Hurt’s blonde-haired blue-eyed Aryan-looking Rochester (did Franco even read the descriptions of his “olive face, square, massive brow, broad jetty eyebrows and deep dark eyes” I wondered?) came across merely as cold, cruel and calculating, while Jane — played by Charlotte Gainbourg — was humourless, dispassionate and disappointingly feist-free.

Ten years later the BBC had a stab at it too, with a four-part TV dramatisation that almost did the novel justice. Ruth Wilson played a pleasant and likeable Jane but lacked that elusive ethereal quality that was so perfectly described in the book and that literally stops the lord of the manor in his tracks, while Toby Stephens’ Rochester was certainly brooding enough for his part but came across as too sullen and spoilt to be realistically attractive to anyone.

So tantalisingly close, but it ultimately failed in the passion department and once again I was left wanting.

And then I saw this new interpretation by the director Cary Joji Fukunaga and at last it felt like I’d finally found my definitive Jane Eyre.

Mia Wasikowska (Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland) is everything she is supposed to be — a dichotomy in every possible way; physically fragile yet spiritually strong; naïve and innocent yet deep and wise; candidly honest yet gently intuitive; down-to-earth and yet other-worldly; perfectly plain but radiantly beautiful.

And yet all this would mean nothing if Rochester were to fall short as her brooding, masculine antithesis.

Fortunately — and be still my beating heart! — this isn’t remotely the case. Michael Fassbender’s Edward Fairfax Rochester is so good that Charlotte Brontë herself would surely approve.

He plays the world-weary master to absolute perfection and the chemistry between the two is so apparent from the outset that you would swear sparks were flying. In fact in their parting scene, on the night of the fire, as their bosoms heave against each other and their lips almost touch, the anticipation is so great that every woman in the cinema around me literally groaned out loud and gripped their velvet banquettes.

So girls, go and see it and I promise you won’t be disappointed. And surprisingly, as the story is so very English in so many ways, there are plenty of connections with Northern Ireland hiding between the lines. For example, the Brontës’ father came from a remote townland in Co Down and some ancestors still remain (one of whom was seated behind me at the press screening, no less); Michael Fassbender’s mum is originally from Northern Ireland, while he himself is currently in Belfast filming the new movie Good Vibrations. The character of Bessie is played by Jayne Wisener, who’s originally from Ballymoney.

Just one word of advice though — take gals or gay friends but leave the hubby at home. Unless he’s both brutish and Byronesque and/or in possession of tight breeches and riding boots, you’ll offend him with your drooling.

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