Summaries

Here is a quick survey of the Jane Eyre movies I have seen. Each one's heading has a link to my full review. I plan to add more reviews as time permits, so please check back!

Jane Eyre, 1934

The first "talking" movie of this story is a hoot. Jane is a glamorous blonde who hilariously insults the Reverend Brocklehurst before leaving to care for the ward of the soft-spoken Mr. Rochester, who has a dreamily confused wife stashed away. Classic 1930s escapism, marred by poor video quality (and running just 62 minutes).

Jane Eyre, 1943

Orson Welles dominates the screen as his fiery Rochester bedazzles Joan Fontaine's more subdued Jane. This black-and-white classic clocks in at a brief 1:37. Don't miss young Elizabeth Taylor as an angelic Helen Burns.

Jane Eyre, 1949

This hour-long TV production necessarily omits much of the plot, but it preserves an admirable amount of Bronte-esque sensibility. Charlton Heston impresses as Rochester and is supported by a very capable cast, including Mary Sinclair in the title role. Sadly, this film seems to be available only in a poor-quality digital version; at least it's free to watch online.

Jane Eyre, 1970

Susannah York and George C. Scott bring big-time talent to a made-for-American-TV version, but they are unconvincing. Substantial plot omissions and alterations, as well as poor-quality reproductions, also mar this often beautiful film.

Jane Eyre, 1973

The BBC's first made-for-TV serialization of Jane Eyre uses its four-hour-plus duration to follow Bronte's story and language in gratifying depth. Feeling more like a filmed play than a movie, it has a high-quality supporting cast, though the two main characters (Sorcha Cusack and Michael Jayston) turn in uneven performances.

Jane Eyre, 1983

Like the 1973 production, this one is a long set of TV episodes (more than five hours in all) produced by the BBC, boasting great fidelity to Bronte's dialogue, yet lacking a glossy cinematic feel. Timothy Dalton makes a surprisingly good Rochester, and Zelah Clarke is among the best Janes I've seen.

Jane Eyre, 1996

A famous director (Franco Zeffirelli) and big-name cast (William Hurt, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Joan Plowright, Anna Paquin, etc.) lend this version plenty of dramatic firepower. However, Hurt is not a believable Rochester, and the script omits or changes some vital scenes, while adding trite dialogue.

Jane Eyre, 1997

Television's A&E Network hosted this production, in which the plot and dialogue are frequently (and badly) altered and the drama level is ratcheted up too high. Samantha Morton is a quite watchable Jane; Ciaran Hinds looks like Rochester, but doesn't act like him.

Jane Eyre, 2006

The Masterpiece Theatre crew produced a creditable version, highlighted by usage of much original language and Ruth Wilson's marvelous performance as the definitive motion picture Jane. Toby Stephens's Rochester is a disappointment, though, and the screenplay mixes shortcuts (unnecessary in a four-hour film) with poorly invented scenes.

Jane Eyre, 2011

As far as it goes, this is a high-quality production ... but it doesn't go far enough. Its two-hour run length leaves too little room for some important scenes and dramatic buildup. This truncated tale doesn't fulfill the promise of a strong cast, including Mia Wasikowska (a believable Jane), Michael Fassbender (an interesting yet less accurate Rochester), and Judi Dench (a matchless Mrs. Fairfax).