Jane Eyre (1970): The Passion of George C. Scott

It's surprisingly easy to obtain various Jane Eyre movies. My ordinary Netflix account provides access to at least eight different versions. Notably missing, though, is the 1970 film starring Susannah York and George C. Scott.


That film is in the public domain, and many sellers on sites such as eBay and Amazon.com offer VHS or DVD copies ... but beware, as buyers have often found themselves saddled with poor-quality and even shortened versions. Since I don't know how to get a full, good-quality recording of the original movie, I'm not going to post a link to Amazon here. You can find the movie there easily enough, but read the buyers' comments before spending your money!


(Note: you can also watch the movie on your PC by visiting the Internet Archive — click here. The quality is not great, but better prints are hard to come by, and it's free.)


I was discouraged when the copy I bought through Amazon.com arrived in a case showing an aged George C. Scott — a photo clearly taken from some other film. But out of curiosity and a desire for completeness, I sat down to watch it anyway.


The movie, which clocks in at just under two hours, has nice production values. Artistic touches range from sweeping views of the beautiful English countryside to a superb musical score composed by John Williams (famous for scoring Star Wars and many other films). Unfortunately, I couldn't fully appreciate those touches, as the nth-generation copy I was viewing had muddy images and dulled sound.


A surprising shot opens the movie: a carriage rumbling along country lanes and arriving at the Lowood School. Emerging from it is a girl who looks about 13 or 14. So, in one fell swoop, the directors utterly skip Jane's entire nightmarish young childhood and make her five years older than in the book — an inauspicious start. But maybe the story can still work without Mrs. Reed's and the Reverend Brocklehurst's cruel outbursts at Gateshead?


That's not to say that the good Reverend's malice is absent. He tells the assembled students, "You are here because God in his wisdom has chosen to make you orphans." And his treatment of Jane — advising peers to shun her, shearing off her hair, making her stand on a stool, etc. — shows that he thinks God prescribes such treatment for children. However, he is a pussycat compared to Miss Scatcherd, who (in an even more evil incarnation than usual) sends poor consumptive Helen Burns to stand outside with a rainstorm looming.


Shortly after that come Helen's death and Jane's transformation to a young adult. The Reverend asks her to stay on as a teacher (which she did in the book), but she scorns him and his offer and heads for Thornfield Hall.


Up to that point, the viewer has seen many invented or greatly altered scenes and has heard few of Brontë's original words. However, after the chance meeting when Rochester falls from his horse (on a bright dry day, not the icy evening that Bronte described), the movie makes a sudden shift. Jane's initial conversation with him in the Hall features lots of genuine dialogue, and snippets of it occur through the remaining scenes.


The two lead actors were likely chosen for their star value. This was around the time when Scott gained fame for his stunning turn as Patton, while York had a decade of film roles under her belt. Given their obvious talents, it pains me to say that they are a main weakness of this production.


Scott has trouble convincing the viewer that he is a man of tender feeling, and he intermittently loses his British accent (especially near the ends of sentences) and betrays himself as American. In a scene where he sings while Blanche Ingram plays the piano, his voice is clearly dubbed. Meanwhile, York — playing an 18-year-old ingenue — is actually about 30, and it shows. That change in age can't help but alter the Rochester/Jane chemistry. Furthermore, she often appears to be acting, "delivering lines" rather than speaking from the heart.


In the scene when Rochester proposes, the scriptwriters unfortunately tried to improve on Bronte's words, and the results are predictably trite. "She is not for you," Jane says, referring to Blanche. Rochester replies, "Then who is for me? Have you seen someone you can recommend?" He is soon blurting out a string of unconvincing I-love-yous. We don't get to see the subsequent wedding preparations, other than the rending of Jane's veil by a madwoman. 


Bertha's presence in this movie is a mixed bag. In early scenes, her face is hidden, but we hear her or see her hands when she is out doing mischief; this creates palpable dread. When Rochester brings people from the canceled wedding to see her, he delivers Bronte's line about this being the "sole conjugal embrace" he is likely to enjoy, but he does so before she has even touched him, which makes no sense. She then leaps at him once, but is otherwise quite calm. He also tells Jane that Bertha tried to murder him on his wedding night; in the book, her madness was revealed over months or even years.


Jane then flees the Hall, but her time with the Rivers family differs drastically from the original story. She immediately tells Diana and Mary her real full name and that she was a governess. St. John preaches at her from his pulpit, during a church service, to convince her to join him in his missionary work. When she declines his later marriage proposal, he says, "You are rejecting God." "No," she retorts sweetly, "I am finding him in his people, in the love they have for each other." A bit saccharine for my tastes.


Jane Eyre movies have concluded in widely disparate ways. Here, we see yet another type of ending. The blind Rochester sits on a bench outside Ferndean. Jane joins him there, and after his initial surprise, he is quite amiable. Before you know it, Jane is entreating him, "I've come home, Edward; let me stay." They cuddle, the music swells, and the credits roll. (Missing: their marriage, the return of his sight, and the birth of their son ... just a few stray details!)


As made-for-TV movies go [though it did have a theatrical release in England], this one shows signs of unmistakable quality: the big-name cast, the lush scenery and convincing period sets, the famous musical talent. Too bad that, due to vast changes and omissions — and due to shortcomings in the main actors — this production equals less than the sum of its parts.






  • Established stars bring major acting chops
  • Sets and cinematography are impressive
  • Viewers get some tastes of Brontë's dialogue


  • York is too old for her role and doesn't fully immerse herself in it, while Scott can't convince viewers he is a romantic Englishman
  • Major scenes are omitted or greatly changed
  • Readily available prints of the movie are of poor quality