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Monday, October 16, 2006

Jane Eyre: BBC1’s latest travesty

The BBC has a good history of making period dramas. I’m thinking of their 1996 miniseries of PRIDE & PREJUDICE, which succeeded in many places where the recent wishy-washy film with Keira Knightley failed. Mainly the central casting of Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth, who have to go down in history as one of the most romantic pairs seen on screen. EVER. So I always keep my eye on the schedules for more literary adaptations…

…and so we come to this year’s 4-hour miniseries of JANE EYRE, which concluded last night. Unfortunately, this JANE EYRE is more in line with the moronic kiddie-fare of the recent ROBIN HOOD and DOCTOR WHO programmes than the quality of P&P, and only bears about 70% resemblance to the classic Brontë novel. I found that it was partly made with US funding, which may explain some of the liberties taken; while I enjoy many American productions, they’re not particularly known for getting their facts straight (take, for example, the new and apparently awful MARIE ANTOINETTE film, directed by Sofia Coppola, she of LOST IN TRANSLATION, a film both Sue and I despise).

Anyway, I digress. JANE EYRE wasn’t all bad. The unknown Ruth Wilson was passable as the titular character and quite good in all the crying scenes. You can’t help but acknowledge her as a little bland for the most part, though. Good news for the ladies is that Toby Stephens (best known as a baddie in DIE ANOTHER DAY and SHARPE’S CHALLENGE) makes for a fine romantic lead, even if his chiselled features are a far cry from the novel’s ‘ugly’ Mr. Rochester. I mean, Stephens is a good-looking guy. So the scenes of him asking Jane “Do you still think I’m ugly?” really don’t make sense.

As for the bad stuff… are you ready? The sets felt ‘settish’ and the flashy camerawork just got in the way of the story. The creaking doors and other haunted house clichés belong elsewhere and nowhere was suspense or atmosphere built up. All of the important scenes are rushed through and the viewer’s left scratching their head as a result. Take, for instance, the death of Helen Burns, a deeply affecting part of Brontë’s novel; Jane only knows her for one afternoon, according to the BBC! Similarly, this adaptation excises Jane’s begging scenes from the beginning of Episode 4; instead, she’s found unconscious on the moor by her own cousin, who just happens to be passing. Jane’s discovery of her relatives was implausible in the book; here, it’s incredible.

Supporting cast members seem far too young and inexperienced. Familiar faces like Tara Fitzgerald, Pam Ferris and Francesca Annis do their best but their efforts are in vain. Laugh as Jane tries to put out an inferno with a little jug of water and keep an eye out for that zombie in the red room. When the miniseries concentrates on the relationship between Mr. Rochester and Jane, it does pretty well, although I’m sure that pre-marital relations in Victorian society were never this… steamy? I don’t remember that in the book either – I think the pair shared a single kiss compared to the bedroom fumbling in this adaptation.

Although Claudia Coulter makes for a spot-on Bertha, her death scene – a fiery jump from Thornfield’s battlements – is ludicrous and laughable, so underwhelming. Mr Rochester doesn’t appear to be bothered in the least that the building is burning under his very feet and the whole sequence has an unintentional air of bathos about it. As for Grace Poole – how the heck did she show up for the overtly sentimental ending, when she would either have been fired by Mr. Rochester or burnt alive in the inferno? And since when was there a ouija board in use at Thornfield, or a book called The Beast Within for that matter??

At least there’s one good thing about this adaptation – Mr. Rochester’s dog, Pilot, is just as I pictured him from the novel :^)


Sue aka MsCreativity said...

Oh my goodness, where shall I start? Okay, firstly I LOVE Keira Knightley and didn't think she failed at all in the recent adaptation of P&P. It was just different, that's all, and okay not a match for the Colin Firth one. But the real reason Keira never did it for you was because you had a soft spot for Jennifer Ehle! :^P

I agree that Jane Eyre was pretty poor in places where they used poetic licence to deviate from Bronte's novel, but for us girls Toby Stephens more than made up for this. ;-)

Sue :-)

Gray said...

I don't remember hearing you complain when Colin Firth came out of the lake ;^)


Karen Erickson said...

I loved Jane Eyre - disappointing to hear the miniseries was so crappy. Hard to get classic fiction right -- it can be done but it's hard.

Plus (voice drops to a whisper), I've never watched the P&P adaptation with Colin. I really need to cos every romance writer I know raves ON about it...

Melissa Marsh said...

I'd have to agree that I would much rather watch BBC productions as opposed to American ones of classic novels.

Stacy Dawn said...

LOVE LOVE LOVE Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy....for me there will never be another to the point now when I read the book again and again, their two faces are who I picture.

Seriously, is there anything better than his first proposal scene. My all time favorite.