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!
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).
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.
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.
Another hour-long episode produced for TV cuts out
all but the key storyline, of Jane arriving at Thornfield and finding both fascination (with the bossy Mr.
Rochester) and anxiety (about the dangerous mystery that seems to lurk there). The actors are no great shakes, and
wholesale changes occur near the start, but then the fidelity improves enough to justify a
Yet another one-hour version for mid-century TV
watchers. Like its immediate predecessors, it skips Jane's childhood and rushes her to Thornfield. There, a
haunted Rochester (played by Patrick McNamee, who later starred in The Avengers) hectors an unusually
perky Jane. A few bright spots fail to redeem this hurried and inauthentic retelling.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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).