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Humanity lies at the heart of 'Jane'

By Charles Mcgrath (China Daily/Nww York Times)
Updated: 2011-03-22 11:39
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Humanity lies at the heart of 'Jane'

Mia Wasikowska as the newest ''Jane Eyre,'' still a classic 164 years after the British novel's publication. Laurie Sparham / Focus Features

Of all the classic 19th-century novels, Charlotte Bronte's "Jane Eyre" has been by far the most filmed.

There have been at least 18 film versions, and 9 made-for-television "Janes."

So why another "Jane Eyre"? Douglas McGrath, who has directed movie versions of both Jane Austen's "Emma" and "Nicholas Nickleby," by Charles Dickens, wrote recently in an e-mail: "What makes a classic a classic is that the story always has relevance to whatever generation is reading it. If it didn't, it wouldn't be a classic - it would be forgotten. And I think that what gives them relevance is the human dilemma at the center of it."

Alison Owen, the producer and driving force behind the new one, had a more personal reason to make the movie (which opens in Turkey in May and in Western Europe this fall): her affection for the novel. Just about everyone involved in the production, which stars Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender, felt much the same way, she said.

The novel, which came out in 1847, is set in a world that modern readers may identify with. The story of an orphan who becomes a governess, sticks up for herself and finds true love in a spooky mansion, all the while pouring her heart in prose that is lush, romantic, almost hypnotic, "Jane Eyre" is a Gothic horror story and arguably the first and most satisfying "chick-lit" novel.

Humanity lies at the heart of 'Jane'

And unlike earlier film versions, "It makes a huge difference to have someone in the part who is pre-womanhood," Ms. Owen said. "Mia was 19 when we made this, which is exactly Jane's age."

Cary Fukunaga, 33, the American director, had made only one other feature, "Sin Nombre," a movie filmed in Spanish about Central Americans trying to make their way illegally into the United States, when Ms. Owen chose him to direct the new "Jane."

"Filmmaking is a gamble," she said, adding that she had been partly guided by her experience in making the Cate Blanchett film "Elizabeth," directed by Shekhar Kapur. "It proved a great success to have a director from a different culture," she said. "You need to shake things up."

Mr. Fukunaga, who grew up watching Robert Stevenson's 1943 version, said he learned from it the importance of balancing the various elements of the story.

"Do you make this a standard period romance drama?" he said. "Do you make it a horror film? How do you walk the line between the two?"

A.O. Scott, the Times film critic, in a review on March 11, called the new "Jane" "a splendid example of how to tackle the daunting duty of turning a beloved work of classic literature into a movie," adding, "Mr. Fukunaga's film tells its venerable tale with lively vigor and an astute sense of emotional detail."

Everyone involved agreed that Ms. Wasikowska's performance was crucial.

"What I loved about Jane is that she has this innate sense of self-respect," Ms. Wasikowska said. "It's not like she had a loving upbringing. Everything she has achieved, it's because she made it for herself."

Ms. Owen said: "The reason so many people love 'Jane Eyre' is that they can identify with her. She's not beautiful. She's small and plain, and yet she finds romantic happiness. It's a fairy tale for the insecure and unconfident - the ordinary woman."

(The New York Times)

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