Jane Eyre (1952)
I have finally seen this production, thanks to Thisbeciel who sent me the DVD in the mail. In most respects it is mediocre at best, but now and then it is interesting- and sometimes ridiculous. I have only seen the production once through so I may have different impressions on a second viewing. The first thing to catch my attention was that Jane is listed third in the credits. This is not accounted for by order of appearance or anything else I can think of. The perspective of the production is unique, I think. We begin with Jane looking back at her experiences at Thornfield. It is clear that she ‘can never go back to Thornfield.’
A Brontëana reader had asked what was ‘wrong’ with Mr Rochester’s mouth in the scene where he walks into the garden after being thrown from his horse (off stage). It is stage blood, but the quality of the recording makes it difficult to tell from the images I posted. The ‘Hay Lane’ garden scene is rather different from canon. Jane becomes a little rude towards the end, tired of the stranger’s questions she tells him to be quiet just before Mrs. Fairfax runs in and identifies him. The acting is affected, but usually not to the point of absurdity or of annoyance. But Jane has an infuriating way of making giddy love-sick faces now and then.
One positive point is how often the theme of Jane’s social standing becomes an issue. First Mrs. Fairfax heartily declares she is ‘not a servant’ and will be treated as such. Blanche, however, makes a point of calling her a servant twice- once in an accusatory tone to Mr Rochester.
A few things are peculiar. It seems, from my knowledge of early stage adaptations of the novel, that it was very common to shift the scene of the fire into the drawingroom or library. This solves the problems of having to show the bed on fire, and having to have a bedroom set which is only used for one scene. It causes another problem: the audience now knows about Bertha. This production, for some reason, felt that this just wasn’t enough of a hint- having a cackling maniac set the drapes on fire, then run upstairs. So, we get to see Bertha look out from the third floor door and smile at us, just in case we didn’t get it yet! When she reappears she is wearing manacles! Manacles that are completely ineffective as she escapes from two handlers and chews on Mr Rochester’s coat for an instant before she is hauled away. Before she appears, Briggs asks: “Is this necessary?” A good question! I don’t see why we needed to see this, we had already seen her try to kill him. Chewing on his clothes isn’t so bad as that.
Now and then it was absurd. Having Bertha smile at us was absurd, and so is the wedding scene. He is very gallant leading Jane to the garden wedding ceremony but in his haste he makes a few errors. The minister politely hints that he is standing on the wrong side. When Briggs turns up he is only a little put out, and seems capable of ignoring the interruption: “Produce him or get out,” he says in an even, uninterested tone. Then Mason appears. This level-headed Rochester now goes berserk- he leaps on Mason and throttles him to the ground, while Mr Mason gasps: “he’s married to my sister- ack!” “Enough!” Cries Rochester, throwing Mason to the ground again. “Enough! Enough! Enough! She lives! She lives! She lives! She lives!”
Before the proposal, Jane had already made plans to leave for Ireland and had her bags packed. Mr Rochester tries to convince her to stay, then agrees to let her sleep on it. She must have gone to Ireland after all because the next scene is of Mr Rochester looking out of a window, and then a shot of the sea. Otherwise he must have very good vision to see the sea from Thornfield. We see Jane surrounded by trees. She looks crazy, and is muttering about Mr Rochester, and looking around vaguely. She starts talking to him before we hear his voice, giving the impression that she really has lost her mind.