(Air Date: Week Of 5/10/96)
When we want to see "Jane Eyre", we can buy the 1934 version from Sinister Cinema or we can rent the 1944 all-star classic from Fox Video or we can watch the 1970 telefeature that turns up every so often on double-digit UHF channels or we can plow through all six hours of the 1983 PBS miniseries. Clearly, there is no shortage of Jane Eyres and Edward Rochesters in this century. Does this 1847 saga by Charlotte Bronte have anything new to say to the audiences of 1996? Director Franco Zeffirelli clearly thinks so and his latest movie is a fairly faithful adaptation marred by serious miscasting.
William Hurt may look like the subject of an early daguerreotype, but the instant he opens his mouth, we get to hear a Mr. Rochester who owes more to Elmer Fudd than Orson Welles. His interpretation, too, throws the film off-balance: aside from a self-conscious scowl, he seems entirely disinterested in Jane or Thornfield or anything. Charlotte Gainsbourg's Jane speaks with a constant lisp, which may not be as detectable in her many French film assignments, but it clearly eliminates the possibility of Jane's extended narrations, (The charismatic Amanda Root is in the same movie in a small role as Miss Temple: why couldn't SHE have played Jane opposite someone like Daniel Day Lewis.)
Elle McPherson's Blanche Ingram is reduced to a walk-on bit, ditto Maria Schnieder as Rochester's mad first wife. Joan Plowright is wonderful as Mrs. Farifax and Billie Whitelaw has a few splendid but all-too brief sequences as Grace Poole. This "Jane Eyre" sounds like it will be better than it looks until you're in the theatre and then it looks better than it sounds. Do we care a fig for THESE repressed lovers? Not this time around. Gainsbourg does have a bit of amended narration at the end when she talks about Hurt's 'eyeth' as being 'very large, brilliant and full of life'. Alas, these are the three things that Hurt's eyes - in this movie - are not. Bring back Orson Welles and Joan Fontaine and Hillary Brooke!
Copyright 1996 Monica Sullivan
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