Four film versions of Jane Eyre weren’t enough for A&E, so in 1997 they said “me too.”
Their “Literary Collection” version features a competent Samantha Morton in the title role. Written by Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre tells the story of a headstrong, orphan girl who grows up to be a governess, and eventual lover, to the hard-edged Mr. Edward Rochester (Ciaran Hinds).
Like the stories of Jane Austen, Jane Eyre is proto-feminist. It uses the genre of romance to advance the idea of equality of the sexes.
Rochester uses his position of power to intimidate Jane, and she acknowledges his authority, although she does not flinch from him. When the two first meet, he upbraids her for spooking his horse. Eyre defends herself, reminding him that she was merely walking.
When they meet again it is because Rochester has caught Eyre staring at him from the balcony. He reacts defensively, laying a verbal trap for this young governess with too much curiosity. He tries to get her to say that he is ugly. But Eyre gives her honest and perceptive answer about Rochester’s character, and his heart is won over.
The love story blooms with some very good May-December chemistry between the two leads. It was refreshing to see a non-handsome Hinds and a plainly made-up Morton share some tender scenes. A previous version of Jane Eyre starred William Hurt, who seems too well-known and well-liked to play the necessarily homely and gruff Rochester. (The 1944 version starred Orson Welles in the role, a more plausible star.)
This Jane Eyre is fairly true to Brontë’s book. The book goes a little too far to put the lovers on equal footing, contriving Jane’s financial independence. That episode, which doesn’t play very well today, is the only major cut.
A few flaws keep this movie from being outstanding. For one thing, the pace of the ending is a little too hurried – too much happens when the story should be winding down. Also, the chemistry loses its magical element at the very end. But all in all it’s one of the better made-for-TV movies I’ve seen.
As for the DVD, there is not much to say. Since the movie was not released theatrically, there is no widescreen version. There are very few extra features on the DVD – just a few hyperlinks to the A&E web site and 2 paragraphs about the life of Charlotte Brontë. The transfer of the film was adequate, although not breathtaking; and the DVD played smoothly on a fairly slow notebook computer. I imagine watching the DVD is not much different from watching the videotape.