Bronteana: Bronte Studies Blog Archives

August 27, 2006


Filed under: Uncategorized — by bronteana @ 2:28 pm

Jane Eyre 1957 (with Joan Elan and Patrick MacNee)

I have finally had the pleasure of seeing the entire production myself and it has taken me some time to come to conclusions about it. It is one of the stranger adaptations I have come across so far. It is difficult to describe. I suppose there are two approaches going on at once: an attempt to be faithful to the novel and a complete revision of it. That doesn’t make much sense. But it is more or less true. Firstly, most of the main plot elements are removed or changed. Especially anything hidden is revealled- except for Bertha. But the audience is let into the secret before Jane. As soon as Rochester arrives he debriefs Mrs. Fairfax and we learn that Mr Mason is already around, and that ‘he’s her brother’ although we do not yet know who ‘she’ is. Jane is annoying- constantly whinning about Grace Poole and waxing poetic at strange times and always to Mrs. Fairfax.

Character-wise, Rochester has been reduced to a drunken letch and I really don’t see what is so attractive here. Even Mrs. Fairfax seems to admit to a little attraction to him (a little! A very little! But, still…). All of this is balanced by a surprisingly substantial farewell scene which includes several elements entirely missing from all other adaptations. And yet, it still fails to evoke sympathy. Rochester is simply such a boor, and he becomes even more boorish in this scene that I am not sure what the purpose of including it is. (Examples of his boorishness include drinking brandy as if from a fishbowl until he’s so drunk that he very nearly rapes Jane on the stairs when she comes to fetch Adele’s doll- he also may or may not have groped her in the same scene, depending on how charitable you are or upon close examination of angles. Bertha’s attack also looks more like something kinky… and then, in the farewell scene he doesn’t simply muse on how he could crush Jane (but that it would be no use, and he wouldn’t want to do so)- he goes on about how he would completely ‘dominate’ her).

As a consequence of this revision of Rochester, Jane seems extremely stupid and naive. During the attempted rape Jane is pushed up against the banister giving the panting Rochester a lecture on drinking and morality with perfect composure. Her constant declaration ‘I don’t understand you’ is ridiculous, especially if he had just groped her a moment before. But I suppose this all explains how she could return to him in the end.

From this brief outline, you can see that some of it was pretty hilarious. Other parts were too. Especially Mr. Mason. He falls down the stairs all bloody and holding a knife, and tells all of the guests what happened. Rochester runs over and says it was just an accident and everyone believes him! This doesn’t work as well during the proposal. The instant Jane and Rochester kiss, Mason pops up behind them with a sort of ‘what’s all this?’ air and Mr Rochester tries in vain to shoo him away even while Mason is telling Jane all about how he’s married. I think there’s even a Wizard of Oz reference when Jane’s at Lowood and appears at Thornfield (there’s an arial-like shot of a painting of Thornfield, so it appears that she flies in Mary Poppins style) after saying ‘Thornfield, Thornfield, Thornfield!’ (and maybe clicking her heels off-camera).

I think this proves it: loads of text from the book does not a good adaptation make.


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