A faithful adaptation, by Hugh Whitemore and director Franco Zeffirelli, aimed squarely at the middle ground. Its cinematic effects are generally banal - the elegant, slow dissolves that befit a prestige classic, hollow footsteps and an eerie laugh echoing through the Tower - but such restraint is welcome given what Zeffirelli is capable of. Mostly, he seems satisfied to let the actors get on with it, tacitly acknowledging that Charlotte Gainsbourg's Jane is his strongest asset. It's unusual to see a lead actress photographed so harshly. She is sallow with shadows under her eyes, yet has a defiant tilt of the chin and embodies a guilelessness which makes her deeply sympathetic. (She's also a credible match for Anna Paquin's forlorn young Jane.) Gainsbourg's so sparing with her smile, that each one cuts to the quick. William Hurt makes a strong fist of a less intimidating Rochester: he's brusque and morose, but altogether more accessible than the brooding romantics portrayed by Welles and Scott in earlier versions. In a way, that's the problem with this adaptation. It's too tame to stir the blood. We understand Jane's pain but not her passion. For all its melodramatic hyperbole, the 1943 version caught Charlotte Bronte's tenor more honestly than this. Very capable support, though, from Fiona Shaw (Mrs Reed), Amanda Root (Miss Temple), Joan Plowright (Mrs Fairfax), and Billie Whitelaw (Grace Poole).
Cast and crew
|Screenwriter:||Hugh Whitemore, Franco Zeffirelli|