jane Eyre is one of those classics of literature which is so imprinted on the national consciousness that you assume you must have read it.
Or if you haven’t read it you feel somehow that you ought to have read it.
The characters of Jane and Mr Rochester are so well-known that I was convinced I had read the book. Isn’t it one of those that they force you to read at school?
But after sitting spellbound for two hours by the story on the big screen I know for sure that I haven’t read it, because I would have remembered, most assuredly. As one of Charlotte Bronte’s characters might say.
This latest adaptation of the 19th century tale of tormented love is brought to life superbly by the porcelain pale Mia Wasikowska in the title role.
She plays Jane as a self-contained stoical young woman, belying the heartache of a bleak and loveless childhood.
She has learnt to hold her feelings in check and accept whatever fate throws at her, although her vulnerability becomes apparent when she falls in love with Edward Rochester, played with brooding intensity by the excellent Michael Fassbender.
When he asks Jane what her ‘tale of woe’ is, because all governesses have one, she refuses to express any self pity, preferring instead to give a matter-of-fact account of her past.
Written by Bronte in 1847, this is a world where children are orphaned young and become wards of distant relatives.
So it is with Jane. After her parents die she is taken in by an aunt who makes her life a misery before packing her off to the severe Lowood boarding school where beatings are dished out regularly.
Jane remains there and eventually becomes a teacher herself before moving to Thornfield Hall to take up a position as governess to Mr Rochester’s ward, a little French girl called Adele Varens (Romy Settbon Moore),
Jane is made welcome by the kindly house keeper Mrs Fairfax, played with practised ease by national treasure Judi Dench, who seems to live in period costume these days.
She enthuses about her absent master, but when Mr Rochester does return home Jane finds the reality to be very different.
Abrupt and unfriendly, she feels uncomfortable in his presence. But when she saves his life the mood between them changes and it is clear that a physical attraction is developing.
Fassbender may not be your conventionally goodlooking screen idol but he smoulders in breeches and waistcoat, toying with Jane’s affections until she is under his spell.
Film makers Focus Features cast their own moody, Gothic spell with the use of candlelight, shadow and sweeping scenes of wild moorland which capture Jane’s isolation, both physical and emotional.
Thornfield Hall is in reality Haddon Hall, located on the banks of the River Wye at Bakewell. The Peak District is the setting for the moorland scenes.
When Jane leaves Thornfield she is taken in by the family of religious zealot St John Rivers, played by former Billy Elliott actor Jamie Bell, all grown up now with his mutton chop whiskers.
He proposes to Jane but she knows it is Mr Rochester who holds her heart.
It’s rare for a film to hold my complete attention for two hours but this one did. Both Wasikowska and Fassbender held the screen magnificently and I didn’t want the story to end.
Even if period dramas aren’t normally your thing, I would recommend going to see it because this love story remains as powerful today as it was when Bronte wrote it.
I’m going out now to buy the book.
By Helen Johnston