Sunday, August 12, 2007

There was no possiblity of taking a walk that day. Or getting the correct opening page.

I just watched the oddest film version of Jane Eyre, which is quite possibly my all-time favourite book - certainly the one I've re-read the most. The movie was the 1944 Joan Fontaine/Orson Welles version, directed by Robert Stevenson, which I'd never seen before as it rarely came on TV and was only recently made available on DVD. Oh dear, oh dear. I know and accept that films take liberties with the original story but I've never seen such sacrilege with the actual text. The above photo is the first shot of the film, zooming in on the supposed first page of the book while Joan Fontaine reads the first paragraph in voice-over. As any fan will quickly realize - this is not the first paragraph of Jane Eyre; it's not even close. You would think that the screenwriter - Aldous Huxley no less - would have more respect for the actual book. I find it extraordinary that the filmmakers would go to the trouble of creating an entirely new and false first page (various other "paragraphs" of the book are read throughout the movie). The DVD comes with two separate commentary tracks and neither of them mentions this anomaly. And yet, this is one of the most famous opening paragraphs in English literature! And I'm afraid the film didn't improve from there. While some of the cinematography and the lighting was quite stunning, (I've never seen as much mist in any other version) this was a rather foolish adaptation. Elizabeth Taylor as Helen Burns? Oh please. A much more sinister "take" on Jane Eyre is Hitchcock's 1940 adaptation of Rebecca, also with Fontaine and a much more haunted Laurence Olivier. I'm also rather fond of the 1983 BBC Jane Eyre with Zelah Clarke and Timothy Dalton who makes a fine Rochester, particularly in the final scenes. I haven't yet seen the 2007 Masterpiece Theatre production.


Anonymous said...

I would be very curious to see what you think of the 2006 BBC version of Jane Eyre (which aired on Masterpiece Theatre in 2007). It stars Toby Stephens as Rochester; you will recall he was also in Camomile Lawn. The newest adaptation certainly takes some (significant) liberties with the book, but many think that it portrays the relationship between Rochester and Jane most convincingly.

Maylin said...

Yes, I'm looking forward to watching it. I suppose the ideal version would be to take the best of bits and pieces of each. I've always thought for instance that Ciaran Hinds makes the best looking Rochester, but to my mind, an ideal adaption needs to include the Red Room scene and to play up the Rivers episode far more than most productions.

Sara K. said...

If you're looking for sinister and the Brontes, don't forget the great old version of Wuthering Heights with Olivier. For some reason it doesn't seem to be on dvd. I've had it on my "saved" netflix queue since I joined.