Jane Eyre: We’ve Got Ourselves One Heckuva Mr. Rochester

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Last night I went to a screening of the new Jane Eyre, due to open in many cities next Friday.  As the Washington Post film critic told us at the movie’s conclusion, this is something like the 18th adaptation of Charlotte Bronte’s classic.  I’ve seen about five or six and I’m willing to go out on a limb and say that Michael Fassbender is my favorite Rochester, but Mia Wasikowska, while quite good, remains a bit flat as Jane.

The movie is a quite literal adaption of the story, despite some time shifts in the narrative that make sense for film as a medium, and manages to tell the entirety of the tale in just two hours. It’s also gorgeously shot, conveying the sweep of the bleak landscape around Thornfield Hall, as well as a few bright patches of sunshine in spring.  You get a real sense of the isolation of Thornfield.

But the high point is Mr. Rochester. Michael Fassbender is an actor on the fast track and it’s easy to see why. Many probably know him from Inglorious Bastards, the Quentin Tarrantino movie, but heck, those of lower brow (like me) also know him  from 300 and the guilty pleasure British TV series Hex in which he played fallen angel Azazel.  He’ll also be seen as the young Magneto opposite James McAvoy’s Charles Xavier in the upcoming X Men: First Class. For the record, I was already excited about that movie, but now I’m even more so.

Jane EyreIt’s tough to cast Mr. Rochester with a conventionally pretty boy handsome actor because Bronte is specific that he is not handsome – in fact, in one of the book’s and the movie’s most memorable scenes, Jane tells him that he is not. Fassbender, while blazingly hot, is attractive in a sort of craggy way, allowing Hollywood to have it’s handsome leading man, without really doing so. But, more to the point, his performance as Mr. Rochester blazes with passion.  From his casual cruelty to his ward and housekeeper to his gradual awakening to the passions banked within Jane, he is playful, passionate, and brooding.  And, oh yeah, sexy.

Anybody who saw Mia Wasikowska in the excellent HBO series In Treatment, knows she is an incredible actress. But the important thing about Jane is that, while she is as ruthlessly controlled as the world has forced her to be, there is a fire and a passion within her that Mr. Rochester recognizes when he meets her.  With that said, it’s hard to tell why here. Her face remains flat and she doesn’t respond to the twinkle in the eyes of Rochester as the two engage in their early debates.  She looked right, but it just wasn’t there.

The bottom line? If you’re an Anglophile (and you know who you are), then this movie is your drug since it is an excellent adaptation of a beloved tale. And, in case you can’t tell by now, Mr. Rochester is to die for. Seriously.  And, yep, he’s my favorite.

My mother was a frustrated casting director and Jane Eyre was one of her favorite books.  According to my mom, the two casting insults she could never get past were Vivian Leigh as Scarlett O’Hara (an Englishwoman playing the great Southern heroine was something my born and bred Southern mother could not accept – she wanted Susan Hayward) and George C. Scott as Rochester in a 1970s TV version of the story. While I got awfully tired of hearing about both these cases, she had a point. With Katherine Heigl playing Stephanie Plum and set to be Diana Gabaldon’s Claire, I’m beginning to understand the outrage.  Heigl as Claire?  No freakin’ way.

So, my questions are these:

  • Are you looking forward to Jane Eyre?
  • What do you think of the casting of Jane and Rochester?
  • Are there any particular casting abominations you’re still grinding your teeth over?

- Sandy AAR

31 thoughts on “Jane Eyre: We’ve Got Ourselves One Heckuva Mr. Rochester

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  4. Silly me, but I thought old George C was one of the best and most romantic of the Rochesters. Not necessarily conventionally attractive, tough, angry — I really liked his take on it.

  5. I am so very excited about this movie! I wait with great anticipation for it to come out in theaters. I will gladly pay $10 for that.
    My favorite version of all time is Toby Stephens and Ruth Wilson as Rochester and Jane. Stephens just really did it for me. It will be hard to top Ruth Wilson’s performance.
    Someone mentioned Emily Blunt as Claire for Outlander…that is a perfect suggestion. From this day forward, every time I read Outlander I will imagine her as Claire! :)

  6. I haven’t seen or read Jane Eyre but I love Michael Fassbender! He is soo hot. I loved him in Hex, although I haven’t seen him in the other movies. I’ll definitely watch him in this movie, and in the x-men one.

  7. Heather, I have to admit that the first time I saw Heath Ledger smile, I thought of young Jamie. Sadly, that will never happen.

    I’ve always thought of Juliana Margulies as an older version of Claire.

    Kristina, I’m glad you agreed with my assessment of Fassbender’s Rochester. I thought he was absolutely wonderful.

  8. I have to cast my vote for the Timothy Dalton/Zelah Clarke one as being the best of all of them! The Ruth Wilson/Toby Stephens one, not so much.

    However, I will be seeing this Jane Eyre in theatres as soon as it is available where I am!

    And I will forever boycott the film company who casts Katherine Heigl as Claire! I could maaayyybe see Susan Sarandon and Liam Neeson doing ‘Voyager’ and the later books, but I can’t think of ANYONE who could do justice to the first two.

  9. I saw Jane Eyre last night (it opened here in NYC yesterday!), and thought it was fabulous. It’s one of my all-time favorite books, and I’ve never been satisfied with any of the previous movie/TV versions. Like Sula, Orson Welles was probably my favorite Rochester before now, just because the old version has a “classic” feel to it, and it’s the version I’ve seen the most. I was a little wary of Fassbender, mostly because I was totally unfamiliar with him (which actually turned out to be a plus!). But when it ended, my friend and I basically turned to each other and said “Now THAT was Mr. Rochester!” I was perfectly happy with Wasikowska as Jane, too. My single only complaint was that I felt like we weren’t quite shown enough interaction between Rochester/Jane to really buy into their developing feelings for each other–or at least, people who aren’t familiar with the book might not have bought it (has anyone NOT read the book?!).

  10. I can remember when I was 12 or 13 my Mother woke me up to come downstairs and watch Jane Eyre on the late movie. I have no idea who was in it….I was just astounded that my Mom would wake me to watch anything! I haven’t seen one since but I’ve reserved 2 at the library so I’ll see them soon.

  11. Oddly enough, I’m still partial to Orson Welles as Rochester. Blame it on imprinting, it was one of my earliest movie memories. :)

    Outlander could never be squeezed into two hours and have justice remotely done to it. That said, I’m sure if it’s ever done, I’ll be the first in line to see it. lol

  12. Just thinking about casting for Claire…I saw The Adjustment Bureau last week and I think Emily Blunt could do it. Come to think of it, Emily probably could have been a good Jane as well.

  13. Jane Eyre is my all time favourite book ever and I cannot wait to see the new movie. The first Jane film I ever saw was with Susannah York as Jane and George C. Scott as Mr. Rochester and, contrary to almost everyone’s opinion here, it is my favourite. I loved George C. as Rochester and, through my tear filled teenage eyes, he was beyond perfect. The non-handsomeness, the gruffness, the gravely voice…he has been Rochester in my mind ever since…insert love-lorn sigh here!

    Oh yes…Katherine Heigl as Claire?!? NOOOOOOO….I say NO with the passion of a thousand firey suns! This is just a bad, bad idea. Didn’t anyone involved with the Outlander movie actually read the book? While we’re at it, let’s just go ahead and cast Seth Rogan or Jim Carrey as Jamie shall we?

  14. It seems as if our favorite Rochesters are all over the place. My feeling is that no one actor in the previous versions got him quite right yet. They are either too handsome (Dalton–however dreamy to watch) or too boyish looking (Stephens), but for my tastes, Ciaran Hines chewing up the scenery was just awful. The William Hurd miscast is most generally acknowledged, however, that version is considered to be one of those most faithful to the book and well done in its production values too.

    My favorite Jane was Ruth Wilson. She showed Jane’s character (especially her great conflict about loving Rochester so vividly in all her facial expressions.

  15. I plan to see the film, but I have to say that I loved Toby Stephens as Rochester. The chemistry he and Wilson displayed made their relationship believable. He also brought intensity, sensuality and occasional flashes of humor to the role. I look forward to seeing how Fassbender’s take on the role compares.

  16. I’ve not seen nearly as many Jane Eyre versions as others, but I did see the Toby Stephens/Jane Wilson version and liked it. As mentioned on the boards, much as I like Ciaran Hinds, I just couldn’t watch the version with him and Samantha Morton — for such good actors, they chewed the scenery far too often for my taste. I saw the newest trailer in the theater and have already made a date with a girlfriend to go see the film. Our husbands may come, or they may just join us for dinner after. My husband will see this kind of film with me, but he has to be in the mood.

    As for casting errors, it wasn’t really an example of miscasting because his acting was VG, but I thought James McAvoy wasn’t right for the role of Robbie in “Atonement”. Robbie is supposed to be tall, and his physical presence lends believability when Briony thinks Robbie is hurting her sister Cee when she sees Robbie standing over Cee in the library. McAvoy is short and Keira Knightley is tall, and the audience in the theater actually laughed at this scene. The other is later, when Robbie is angry at Briony and lunges toward her — again, the effect is much more threatening when the actor is physically imposing. I kept imagining Heath Ledger in the role, and much as I love McAvoy, I think Ledger would have been a better choice.

  17. I love Maryann’s suggestion of Richard Armitage as Rochester! Now that is a version of Jane Eyre I would stand in line to see.

    I really like Katherine Heigl (fellow animal lover) but I don’t want her cast as Clarie and Outlander as a 2 hour movie would be a travesty.

  18. I’m not a Jane Eyre fan. It always struck me odd that after all her moralizing, Jane flies back to Rochester’s side, before knowing his wife is dead. That part of the book sort of turns the rest of the character development of Jane on its head. ;-) But, I’ve seen several of the film adaptations and enjoyed the acting of both Hines and Dalton.

    (I don’t like Wuthering Heights at all, so maybe it’s the Bronte sisters I don’t care for!)

    As for poor casting, although I liked the move fine, Kiera Knightly didn’t work as Lizzie in the movie version of P&P. If I think about it as a different story I can enjoy the movie, but it *isn’t* Pride and Prejudice. But the worst in a while has been Billie Piper as Fanny in the BBC adaptation of Mansfield Park…complete with bleached blond hair and dark roots showing. As much as I loved her on Dr. Who, she was totally out-of-place as Fanny.

  19. Corie…That Outlander rumor has been floating around for years. I go back and forth as to whether I want that or not. Right now..no. And jeesh…Katherine Heigl again? Is she the go-to actress right now or what?? I can’t see her as Claire, and I can’t picture anyone as Jamie.

  20. Not much a fan of Jane Eyre (don’t hate me, pls?), I’m more of a Heathcliff and Catherine of Wuthering Heights fan. But I love Michael Fassbender, so I will be watching this version. He is so sexy. I first saw him on an Agatha Cristie BBC film and he was the bad guy but he still made an impression on me. ~sighs~

    By the way, when I read here that they will be doing an Outlander film with Katherine Heigl as Claire I immediately went to IMDB.com to check it out, but I guess everything is all up in the works. I hope they changed their minds on that one! I don’t think they can tell the whole book in 2 hours!

  21. I enjoyed the William Hurt version. Although, I find William Hurt to always be smirking in almost all his movies. Still, I liked it very much.

    I saw the trailer to this most recent version a few weeks ago before a movie were went to. I thought it looked good…and said so. My husband thought it looked “boring”. Translated to mean….no fighting scenes or war, or things blowing up. Ah well….my DIL will love it. I’ll go with her.

  22. Yup, I’ve seen all of the above, too. Jane has always been my hands-down favorite book. In fact, my husband wooed me by giving me various editions of the book–one in Japanese!–before we were married.

    I informed him we would be going to the new Jane, and he sighed, “Can’t you take Beck?” I was happy to tell him our daughter Beck and I will make a mom-daughter day out of seeing it, but he gets to go with me the first time. Despite his “but we already know what the story is!” (he even read the book for us to discuss while we were dating), he’ll go and then want to talk about it. (We’ve been married 39 years.)

    About Colin Darcy: The King’s Speech has turned me around. Now I think of him as the King first, Darcy second. I still get a kick out of his story about after he was cast as Darcy when he brother commented, “But I thought he was supposed to be handsome!”

    Anyway, thanks for all the memories of all the Janes.

  23. This will be my first film adaptation, so I’m a Jane Eyre Movie virgin and will probably form the opinion that Fassbender is the best and only option. Kind of like Colin Firth will always be the one and ONLY correct Mr. Darcy. Although I wasn’t mad at Matthew Macfadyen because he turned out to do a pretty good job as well, what with that dramatic walk across the misty morning moors.

    What I’m bummed about is that I thought the Jane Eyre movie came out today, but it looks like it’s only in very limited theaters. Will it hit everyplace next weekend? I can’t wait.

  24. I’m taking my daughters to dinner and a movie to see this one, and we are all very excited about it. I try to never miss a new version of Jane Eyre or Wuthering Heights.

    I did wish for Richard Armitage to be cast as Rochester. I know he’s beyond gorgeous, but I think he could play all facets of Rochester’s personality exceedingly well. That voice of his really sends me somewhere nice, and he was intense in North and South.

    I’m reassured by your recommendation for Michael Fassbender, though, so thanks for that, Sandy!

  25. I believe I’ve only seen the last 1/2 hour of the one with Ciarin Hinds and oh, my, I loved him – he was the reason why I tried Rome and loved it.

    Very much willing to see this movie all the way through!

    CindyS

  26. I, too, liked Toby Stephens and Timothy Dalton. And Orson Welles was also really good. William Hurt and George C. Scott, not so much.

    I kind of want it all because I do want an attractive leading man to look at, while also wanting to be true to the book. Fassbender filled the bill for me.

  27. Ah Jane Eyre movies.
    Confession number 1–didn’t like the Toby Stephens version. Sorry, fans.
    Confession number 2–Ciaran Hinds version–never saw.
    Confession number 3–Yeah, I know Timothy Dalton is waaay too handsome to be Rochester, but it worked for me! It also helped that this was a multi-hour mini-series, so the story didn’t end up abridged.

    I agree that George C Scott and William Hurt were both wrong; the movies, though, were entertaining enough.

    I thought the movie was opening today (Mar 11)–I am bummed that I have to wait another week! But I will be there–maybe not opening day, but definitely opening week!

  28. I am in love with movie adaptations of Jane Eyre and own five (or six?) versions. My favorite is more recent and features Toby Stephens and Ruth Wilson. Although I have watched the Ciaran Hinds version numerous times, (I am a Hinds fan), he is my least favorite Mr. Rochester – he’s too blustery. I watch one of my versions of Jane Eyre several times a year.

    So with my fascination of Jane Eyre, I’m greatly anticipating this newest release. Sadly, I think it will be a while before it reaches my community but I’ll be one of the first in the door. Hopefully it will be my next “favorite” Jane Eyre!

    Thanks for the scoop Sandy.

  29. I am there with wings on!!! I love Jane Eyre, love it with a fierce and white hot love. While I am a major fan of the TV version with Ruth Wilson (the best Jane I’ve seen) and Toby Stephens (loved him, but a bit too handsome for Rochester), I may have to change my mind if the movie is as good as the clip.

    I think William Hurt was sadly miscast as Rochester in an earlier version of Jane Eyre, and much as I like Ciaran Hinds, I thought he was not good at all as Rochester.

    If you want to laugh out loud at a bad piece of casting, watch The Conqueror with John Wayne as Genghis Khan. I love the Duke, but this was terrible, I had to go back and watch Red River to remember how good he could be.

    I have to disagree with your mom – I think Vivian Leigh was an excellent Scarlett, but Leslie Howard’s Ashley makes me wince. It’s as if he didn’t care.

    As long as we are casting, I think I’ve found a good Eve Dallas. Stana Katic from Castle. She is physically very much like the description of Eve in the books.

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