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Film / Jane Eyre

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From Aldous Huxley's intriguing Orson Welles/Joan Fontaine 1943 film, through Zelah Clarke and Timothy Dalton's 1983 BBC miniseries, Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre has never been short of adaptations. This doesn't even count the approximately 64 billion Jane Eyre radio plays. A consistent trait of all the adaptations is the conversion of Jane and Rochester from plain or unhandsome to good-looking or downright stunning — a clear case of Adaptational Attractiveness.


The list of film adaptation tropes are as follow:


"Reader, I used these tropes":

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     1943 film

The classic film starring Joan Fontaine as Jane and Orson Welles as Rochester. Co-adapted by Aldous Huxley, after his work on Pride and Prejudice (1940). Child actress Elizabeth Taylor, a few years away from becoming a huge star, has a small part.

  • Adaptation Dye-Job: Blanche is blonde.
  • Composite Character: Helen Burns takes the place of Julia Severn, the girl at Lowood whose curly hair Mr. Brocklehurst orders cut.
  • Calling the Old Man Out: When Jane's finished her education at Loxwood, Mr. Brockenhurst tries to browbeat her into becoming a teacher there, with half her wages withheld for room, board, and the privilege of being subjected to his "spiritual education". In response she refuses, and after being called ungrateful, says he never did anything to be grateful for, and upon being threatened with being barred from returning, simply says she's leaving.
  • Death by Adaptation: Grace Pool. Bertha is said to have killed her in her sleep before she set fire to Thornfield.
  • Don't You Dare Pity Me!: Rochester has this reaction to Jane when she reunites with him at the end, believing she has only decided to stay with him out of pity.
  • Early-Bird Cameo: St. John Rivers appears during Jane's childhood as the local doctor. This removes him from consideration as a romantic rival to Rochester when he reappears at the end (fortunately, given the age and power difference), and reformulates his obstacle to Jane's choice as a spiritual rather than emotional/marital one.
  • Chiaroscuro: When Helen first approaches Jane, the lighting through the stair bannister splays out around them, creating the impression of captivity or prison.
  • Guttural Growler: Rochester.
  • Ice Queen: Blanche has a haughty personality, but she is allowed to make her exit with some dignity.

     1970 film

A British TV film directed by Delbert Mann, starting Susannah York and George C. Scott. Notable for its Emmy-winning score by an up-and-coming young composer named John Williams.

     1996 film

Franco Zeffirelli's adaptation of the novel starring Charlotte Gainsbourg as Jane and William Hurt as Rochester. Notably also includes Anna Paquin as the young Jane.

  • Adaptation Dye-Job: Rochester has reddish brown hair and Blanche is a blonde.
  • Composite Character: As in 1943, Helen Burns takes the place of Julia Severn and becomes the girl whose curly hair Mr. Brocklehurst orders cut off. Jane stands up for her and has her hair cut off as well.
  • Death by Adaptation: Grace Poole. Bertha throws her to her death before leaping to her own.
  • Early-Bird Cameo: St. John and his family appear when Jane returns to her childhood rearing house to attend her aunt's final illness. While not on the level of either the 1943 or 2011 films in including him from the very beginning, it is still earlier than his final-quarter appearance in the novel.
  • Pragmatic Adaptation: Though in general the film plays like an Adaptation Distillation, the final Rivers section is combined and manipulated quite a bit to fit it into a coherent, unified narrative. One especially notable change is that Bertha sets fire to Thornfield just as Jane is running away, rather than two months later as in the novel.

     1997 telefilm

ITV's telefilm starring Samantha Morton (the 1996 Emma) as Jane and Ciarán Hinds (Wentworth in the 1995 Persuasion) as Rochester.

     2006 miniseries

The BBC's return to the story in four episodes after the last miniseries in 1983. Starring Ruth Wilson as Jane and Toby Stephens as Rochester, scripted by Sandy Welch (Our Mutual Friend, North and South, the 2009 Emma), and directed by the BBC's Bleak House co-director Susanna White.

  • Adaptation Dye-Job: Blanche is again blonde.
  • Bookends: The series begins and ends with the painting of a family portrait.
  • Canon Foreigner: The Dent twins and John Eshton, setting up the idea that twinned souls can call each other across distances and making the ending feel much less like a sudden fantastical Deus ex Machina.
  • Family Portrait of Characterization:
    • The first episode of the miniseries starts with Jane's foster family (her aunt and cousins) being painted for a family portrait. Jane is excluded.
    • The miniseries bookends with Jane's family sitting outside of their house being portrayed. Jane wants Adele who is her husband's ward in the picture.
  • Group Picture Ending: It ends up with Jane's family sitting outside of their house, being painted for a family portrait.
  • Pragmatic Adaptation: While it is one of the longer versions, the script makes a few choices to fit the serialized format of the series. A particular example of this is the structure of the fourth episode, which plays with the idea that Jane doesn't remember Thornfield.
  • "Shut Up" Kiss: Rochester does this a number of times to Jane when begging her not to leave Thornfield to the point that one Youtube user said that it sounds like Toby Stephens is eating Ruth Wilson's face.

     2011 film

Focus Features and BBC Films produced this film, directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga (Beasts of No Nation, the first season of True Detective) starring Mia Wasikowska as Jane, Michael Fassbender as Rochester, Judi Dench as Mrs. Fairfax, and Jamie Bell as St. John.

  • Adaptational Attractiveness: Common in all adaptations of the book, but this is the most flagrant example yet, with two extremely attractive leading actors playing characters whose plainness is a plot-relevant trait.
  • Adaptation Dye-Job: Rochester is brown-haired and blue-eyed.
  • Almost Kiss: When Rochester is "thanking" her for saving him from the fire. He tries to kiss her again, after their aborted wedding, but she won't let him.
  • Beard of Sorrow: Rochester grows one after Jane leaves and when Bertha sets the house on fire and commits suicide.
  • Cat Scare: Just before Jane encounters Rochester, she is startled by a bird.
  • Chiaroscuro: The lighting is beautifully done. The trope is used very effectively to mimic the dramatic candlelight that would have been in use at the time of Jane Eyre.
  • Dies Wide Open: Helen dies this way.
  • Dutch Angle: When Helen dies, the camera is tilted as Jane is taken away.
  • Early-Bird Cameo: The positioning of the Rivers section as framing narrative means that all three of the Rivers siblings get these.
  • Eerie Pale-Skinned Brunette: Bertha.
  • Falling-in-Love Montage: To the film's credit, it's not overdone.
  • Identical Stranger: While not identical, there is a strong resemblance between Adèle and the younger Jane, highlighting how Jane identifies with Adèle.
  • Like Brother and Sister: Invoked, and subverted.
    St. John: [Hesitates, then kisses Jane on the lips]
  • Longing Look: There are a lot of these.
  • Messy Hair: Bertha.
  • Oop North: Jane's accent this time around has flavors of Yorkshire in it.
  • Pragmatic Adaptation: The restructuring of the film into using the Rivers sequence as a framing narrative, and the childhood and Rochester sections as semi-flashback material qualify as a clever attempt to reshape the story's unwieldy, commonly frustrating structure into a satisfying two hour film. The film might otherwise qualify for Adaptation Distillation, though many events and causes are finessed to fit a more "naturalistic" rather than Romantic tone.
  • Relationship Compression: Jane and Rochester seem to fall for each other rather quickly (to be fair, it's extremely hard to keep the relationship building sections while trying to include the full plot of the novel).
  • Say My Name: Well, Say His Name.
  • Spiteful Spit: Bertha casually spits at Jane.
  • Vertigo Effect: Twice. First during the Red Room scene, just before an ash cloud explodes from the fireplace, and second just before Jane meets Rochester for the first time (after being startled by the bird).


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