Based on Charlotte Bronte’s novel, Jane Eyre is the story of an orphaned girl who goes through abuse as a child and delve into lots of turmoil in her life until she meets and falls for a man while serving as a governess at mansion. Directed by Robert Stevenson and adapted by Robert Stevenson, Aldous Huxley, John Houseman, and un-credited work from Henry Koster. The film explores a girl’s life into womanhood as she grows into different periods of her life being loveless and mistreated. Starring Orson Welles, Joan Fontaine, Margaret O’Brien, Peggy Ann Garner, John Sutton, Sara Allgood, Henry Daniell, Agnes Moorehead, and an early appearance from Elizabeth Taylor. Jane Eyre is mesmerizing and intoxicating film from Robert Stevenson.
Losing her parents at an early age and living with her cruel aunt Reed (Agnes Moorehead) and cousin John (Ronald Harris), Jane Eyre (Peggy Ann Garner) is sent to Lowood Institution where she endures more cruelty from its headmaster Mr. Brocklehurst (Henry Daniell). Finding friendship in a young girl named Helen Burns (Elizabeth Taylor) and sympathy from Dr. Rivers (John Sutton), Jane eventually becomes educated as she leaves the institution 10 years later as an adult (Joan Fontaine). Taking a job as a governess for a mansion called Thornfield Hall, she meets its housekeeper Alice Fairfax (Edith Barrett) as she would care for a young French girl named Adele (Margaret O’Brien). Walking outside of the house, Jane sees a horse coming by as a man falls off the horse as he is revealed to the house’s owner in Edward Rochester (Orson Welles).
While Rochester maintains a very brooding yet mysterious persona as he treats Jane coldly at first. He starts to confide in her in the way she takes care of Adele as well as dealing with some of the mysterious things at home. Particularly when a fire happens in Rochester’s room where Jane heard a laugh and footsteps happening. The two forge a friendship as Jane still ponders about what Rochester might be hiding as she and Fairfax organize a party that is to be attended by many guests including Rochester’s fiancee Blance Ingram (Hillary Brooke). Jane watches from afar at the party as she tries to cope with her feelings towards Rochester while a surprise visit from a man named Mr. Mason (John Abbott) appears. Rochester tries to deal with Mason, who is later injured by an attack, while Jane wonders what Rochester is hiding.
After helping Rochester deal with Mason, Jane considers leaving as Rochester pleas for her to stay. Just as things between the two go well, Rochester’s secret is unveiled forcing Jane to make a heartbreaking decision of her own.
In this adaptation of Charlotte Bronte’s novel about a poor, mistreated plain woman who falls for this mysterious man whose house she runs as she tries to discover what is he hiding and why he is often away from this house. Throughout the film, the story explores this young girl’s journey into seeking love and companionship as she would endure loss and abuse as a child and later deal with a form of indifference as an adult. Yet, there would be people who would care for this young girl that would shape her into becoming this woman who can run things and be this observer to a man who is quite enigmatic and often very cold at times. The screenplay explores the relationship between Jane Eyre and Mr. Rochester as well as being this very dramatic mystery. It is told largely from Jane’s perspective as if she is reading the actual book which includes an intro made for the film. While some scenes are changed from the book to add more dramatic punch to the film, the script does work in maintaining the tension and longing between Eyre and Rochester.
Robert Stevenson’s direction is very stylish for the way the Thornfield Hall manor and its exteriors are presented to maintain that Gothic look and tone of the book. While a lot of the compositions for the conversations and dramatic portions of the film are straightforward. There is an element of style to the look of those shots while Stevenson does create some amazing close-ups to express the emotions and drama. For the suspenseful moments, Stevenson slowly builds things up while keeping this ambiguous as he doesn’t reveal Rochester’s secret except in little hints and through conversation. The overall work that Stevenson does is pretty remarkable as well as spellbinding for maintaining a look that is true to Bronte’s vision of the story.
Cinematographer George Barnes does an incredible job with the film‘s black-and-white photography from the chilly exteriors of the moors to the more entrancing shades and ominous look for the dark interiors at the Thornfield Hall manor. Editor Walter Thompson does an excellent job with the editing as a lot of it is straightforward with dissolves and transitional fade-outs to help maintain a leisured pace for the film. Art directors James Basevi and Wiard Ihnen, along with set decorator Thomas Little, do fantastic work with the set pieces created such as the eerie manor as well as the spacious yet oppressive Lowood dining hall.
Costume designer Rene Hubert does a nice job with the costumes from the black dress and bonnet that Jane Eyre wears to the more regal look of Rochester. The sound work of W.D. Flick and Roger Heman Sr is terrific for the intimacy it provides in the conversation scenes along with the more terrifying moments involving thunderstorms and winds that occur in a few scenes. The film’s score by Bernard Herrmann is brilliant for its sweeping yet suspenseful score that also swells into dramatic arrangements led by a big orchestra as it’s the film’s technical highlight.
The film’s cast is definitely outstanding for the ensemble created that includes small roles from John Abbot as Mr. Mason, Ronald Harris as Jane’s young cousin John, Hillary Brooke as Rochester’s outgoing fiancee Blanche, Aubrey Mather as Rochester’s party guest Colonel Dent, Sara Allgood as Jane’s old kind maid Bessie, and a young Elizabeth Taylor in a splendid performance as young Jane’s best friend Helen Burns. Other notable supporting roles include Edith Barrett as the helpful Mrs. Fairfax, Henry Daniell as the abusive Brocklehurst, Anges Moorehead as the cruel Mrs. Reed, and John Sutton as the very kind Dr. Rivers. Margaret O’Brien is very good as the lively Adele while Peggy Ann Garner is superb in the role of the young Jane Eyre.
Orson Welles is great in the role of Edward Rochester with his imposing physique and brooding persona. While Welles’ approach to the character is theatrical in its tone, he does maintain the dramatic tropes needed for the character as he delves into despair. Finally, there’s Joan Fontaine in a fantastic performance as the titular character. Armed with a great sense of restraint to the melodrama as well as being a woman who endures all sorts of tribulations as well as refusing to be pinned down for who she is. It’s a very entrancing yet spellbinding performance from Fontaine.
The 1943 film version of Jane Eyre is a wonderful yet eerie film from Robert Stevenson featuring outstanding performances from Orson Welles and Joan Fontaine. The film is definitely an interesting take on Charlotte Bronte’s novel as well as playing to the dramatic style of the 1940s. Notably as it features some amazing technical work to help play to the Gothic mood of the film. In the end, Robert Stevenson’s adaptation of Jane Eyre is a chilling yet rapturous film.
© thevoid99 2012