As a classic piece of literature, it’s little wonder dozens of production companies undertake the task of adapting the work to screen. Throughout the years, I’ve collected and seen a number of them. Everything from the A&E telefilm (thumbs down) to the dated albeit interesting original BBC adaptation from the 80s starring Timothy Dalton (thumbs up). Whenever conversation with bookish friends would turn to the Jane Eyre adaptations we like best, my usual spiel would also preclude the most recent miniseries from BBC. After copious amounts of gushing from said friends, I finally tracked a copy down.
The results are of that below, though first in order to introduce the cast, let’s take a quick recap down memory lane of the classic story.
DISCUSSION ARTICLE | The Faces of Adaptations: Jane Eyre Edition
No one has ever loved Jane Eyre (Ruth Wilson), at least no one in her short memory. As a child, she is left in the care of her aunt Reed (Tara Fitzgerald) who banishes her to Lowood institution, a place that abuses students on a daily basis. Now, as a grown young woman, Jane advertises for a position as governess. Accepted by a Mrs. Fairfax (Lorraine Ashbourne), Jane travels to Thornfield Hall where she is to care for the ward of the estate’s owner, Mr. Edward Rochester (Toby Stephens).
During her employment at Thornfield, Jane’s life changes in ways she never imagines. Her heart is awakened to the possibility of a happy life as she becomes equal with that of Mr. Rochester’s life. But secrets lurk in Thornfield Hall, and what once promised only happiness quickly shifts into a kind of prison.
Jane Eyre (2006) ITV Masterpiece Review
There is a story to accompany my eventually seeing this. Following all of the flutter of recommendations I see this, I searched Amazon only to discover it cost $80. No matter the hype, it didn’t seem this would be that good. Fortunately, I did find a region 2 DVD that was in a more comfortable price range. Then one Valentine’s Day weekend, following another recommendation, I came home that very day and began watching BBC’s miniseries.
It’s probably safe to say that each time this is adapted, each version has its own attributes and qualities. Though I’ve not read the Charlotte Bronte novel (what else is new, I know), I have my own reasons for what and why I like certain ones best. This 3-hour adaptation is giving the 2011 feature film (starring Michael Fassbender) a challenge for best version.
You think because I am poor, plain, obscure and little, that I have no heart? – Jane Eyre
Comparisons are inevitable with every string of adaptations, and this suffers the same fate. Sometimes this is a bad thing, others it’s actually an advantage. I think with this, it should be allowed to shine in a class of its own because it’s a mini series which means it’s able to take time in the telling of its tale. Were I to guess, I’d assume this meant the book is better represented. Anyone who isn’t a fan of Jane’s childhood years, this is the one series for you. I’m surprised to see how short and insignificant her days at the school or the Reed household are. It feels like you blink and they’re over. The dark harshness of her early years are glossed over because of this, and nothing quite obtains the same misery because of this.
Seeing a series that focus its time on Jane and Rochester is lovely (their banter is flirtatious and cute). True, this is a primary part of the story, but for some reason, the story comes across as new. Part of this is that Ruth plays Jane as a lighter version of the character. Her girlish tendencies give the character more personality and allow for the ordinarily emotionless woman (as depicted in the other versions) to express feelings. Whether they be of joy, disappointment, sorrow or fear, Ruth acts on what Jane feels inside. Gothic by nature, this also opens this adaptation up to being more whimsical and without the same heaviness its peers wear with pride.
If this could be summed up in a matter of a few words, one would have to conclude this miniseries is the best Jane Eyre has to offer. The Gothic nature and lighter approach to the material still keeps its original concept intact. The costuming is gorgeous, and the chemistry between Ruth and Toby is ridiculously good. If you’re a fan of period drama, this Jane Eyre (2006) ITV version is a must-see. It might not be your favorite, but it’s worth seeing once if for no other reason than to see an actress who seems to understand the importance of showing Jane truly isn’t an unfeeling creature.
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Content: I cannot remember anything significant, but in thinking back, I’m confident its no worse than any prior adaptation. There’s thematic elements, and some “darkness” given the story.
Photos: BBC, Masterpiece Theatre / ITV