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Jane Eyre (2006)

TV miniseries review: Jane Eyre (2006), directed by Susanna White

janeeyre2006The most recent Jane Eyre adaptation to come out before Cary Fukanaga’s 2011 version is this one, from 2006, starring Ruth Wilson and Toby Stephens, with screenplay by Sandy Welch (North & South ’04, Emma ’09), and of course based on Charlotte Brontë’s classic.

This was not the first adaptation I ever laid my eyes on, but it’s the adaptation I watched that turned me into a Jane Eyre fan and had me reaching for the book and dying to read it. Not in 2006 when it was on – I saw very little of it then, if any! No, for me, it began when I caught a re-run on one of the “UKTV” digital channels in the summer of 2008. Haven’t looked back since.

This version starts out with young Jane (Georgie Henley, of Narnia fame) in a desert, wearing flowing red robes. She’s daydreaming away from the horrid Reed family at Gateshead, of course. Mrs. Reed (Tara Fitzgerald), as sympathetic as ever, looks quite scary, I have to say. Wouldn’t have thought Fitzgerald old enough to play Mrs. Reed, personally, but there you go. Noticed that there’s a red filter on the camera when Jane is in the Red Room, and I think it was this rather than the room actually having red details which made it, well, red.

After Jane’s Red Room fit, she doesn’t get to see the apothecary Mr. Lloyd, but rather it’s straight to the visit from Mr. Brocklehurst, and then it’s off to Lowood, which is looking like a very gloomy place indeed. Apparently, parts of Lowood were filmed at the old stables at Bolsover Castle in Derbyshire – which is funny, because we were at a wedding reception there a couple of years back! 🙂

There’s Helen, there’s Jane on a stool with the “LIAR” sign … and it’s all fairly standard stuff, to be fair. Nothing to get too emotionally attached about when it comes to pretty red-head Helen, so when she inevitably dies, it’s not terribly stirring. The transition from past to present is Jane sitting by Helen’s grave and drawing with charcoal – and then she’s an adult, played by Ruth Wilson. In my notes for this adaptation, I’ve written that Charlotte Brontë was accomplised in drawing/painting, just like Jane, underlining how much of the author actually went into the character.

One thing that struck me was when Jane is on her way to Thornfield, because the voiceover tells of the letter she received from Mrs. Fairfax, seeking a “governess to Miss Adèle Varens, ward of Mr. Rochester of Thornfield Hall”. Thus the whole “Miss Fairfax” incident is redundant and is not included at all, as she already knows her pupil is “Miss Varens”. Speaking of which, Adèle strikes me as a bit on the oldish side, but I like her.

Arriving to Thornfield Hall (Haddon Hall in Derbyshire, just like in 1996 AND 2011, yay!), the gatekeeper is a scary-looking fellow! From Mrs. Fairfax, we find out that Mr. Rochester “used to tell jokes as a child”, but perhaps he’s not quite as cheerful nowadays. The master of the house is introduced ~40 minutes into episode one, where Mesrour doesn’t so much slip on the ice, but rather, is spooked by Jane, and throws Rochester (Toby Stephens) off. The music as they meet is partly dramatic and partly dreamlike.

Music overall is very atmospheric and nice. If you close your eyes and listen to this adaptation, or indeed just listen to the audio anyway, you’ll notice this is a lot more reliant on visuals than previous adaptations to tell the story. Which is good if you can see, but as far as listening goes, both 1973 and 1983 work a lot better. Not that it matters when you watch it, providing your vision isn’t impaired.

The end of the first (of four) episode has Rochester telling Jane about Céline Varens, and I really wonder why the exchange “are you still with me, Jane? – I’m here, sir” is there, because it seems really unnecessary and takes away a lot of the atmosphere. Feels really jarring. However, it’s sort of redeemed when Jane asks him:

“Do you still love her, sir?”
“Whom?”
“Céline. I mean – Miss Varens.”
“Good GOD no! No, I threw her out of the hotel room and shot him!”

I LOVE that!

Another thing I love are the clothes. I found this picture, which does a good job at showing the details of the clothes. I’m not going to analyse them, because I lack Servetus‘s insight into clothing and their design, but I like their clothes. Rochester has decidedly nicer breeches here than he did in 1997, for instance, and of course, the cravat also does its little magic. There’s just something about Toby Stephens in period costume one cannot behold without weakening at the knees ever so slightly. Bleedin’ gorgeous.

The scene following the burning bed is nice, but when Rochester returns from his visit to the tower, OH. MY. GODS. Smouldering! Spontaneous combustion alert! One might be lead to believe Rochester set fire to the bed from just being freakin’ HOT, and I’m not talking about the chesticles on display (…okay, partially, I am) but the sheer sexual tension between the two characters as he returns. They are so close to kissing, and they don’t (they only do in JL Niemann’s version) and that’s the beauty of the thing! It’s left as a tension that’s almost palpable, and it’s amazing. None of that faffing about, hovering near the lips like they get up to in the 2011 version.

Err, where was I?

The show goes on. There’s a house party (Christina Cole does her now almost trademark period drama bitch slash ice queen as Blanche Ingram), there’s a gypsy (a woman Rochester pays as opposed to donning the costume himself – odd choice but it kind of works?), there’s Mr. Mason, and you should really know the story by now. When it comes to the wedding scene, in the novel, they’re getting married in the summer, but they’re clearly walking to and from the church in spring – look at the daffodils and the bare trees in the background!

This is (as far as I can remember right now, at least) the first adaptation to include Rosamund Oliver. She always gets deleted when Jane’s in Morton, so it’s nice to finally see her.

There are so many things I can say about this adaptation, and most of it is uncontrollable gushing. The problem is that this review has been in the making since January 2010, and a lot has happened since then. When trying to watch bits of this while reading Jane Eyre’s Husband earlier this year, I could hardly stomach it because I was too involved in the characters there, and they’re a lot closer to the original than these ones are. Took one look at Toby Stephens and wanted to cry, “but that’s NOT what he looks like at all!”, not to mention his mannerisms. I didn’t have as strong a reaction when seeing 2011 recently, so maybe I should revisit this before I actually grade it. 😉 After all, this is one of the strongest adaptations ever made. Just a shame it’s only four hours long!

To begin with, I really liked the flashback scene when Jane thinks back to what has happened after the aborted wedding. Well, when I realised it was a flashback because it confused the hell out of me originally. You know the scene, where they’re lying on the bed and Rochester is pulling out all stops to try and convince Jane to stay? And Rochester has the funniest, gravity-defying hair ever? (Seriously, look at it. ANY hair will hang down in your face when you’re face down like that, but Rochester’s hair doesn’t care about gravity, it stays exactly where it is when he’s upright. Heh.) I thought it worked quite well. Then, getting more engrossed in the original novel, it started to annoy me. Sure, it’s for a modern audience and sure, Jane still resists him, but it’s still wrong. I can appreciate the scene from an “awwww, how romantic” view, but not from a Jane Eyre purist view.

So I don’t know. As much as this adaptation was what made me fall in love with Jane Eyre Mr. Rochester (and Toby Stephens, to be fair) and I love watching it, it’s still not the definitive version. At least this one has good chemistry between the two leads and they play their parts beautifully (although last time I thought Rochester was too upbeat). One thing I thought of when watching 2011, though, was the wedding scene. The look on Rochester’s face when the wedding is interrupted is incredibly touching. You can really SEE how much his whole world comes crashing in and how he’s losing everything he cares for. Beautifully acted!

There’s also a stubbornness to Jane, so while she doesn’t look like she’s 18, there’s still that fire lurking underneath. I really do like it. She’s not too meek or harmless, she has some guts.

…I’ll re-watch this before grading it, so I’ll leave it here for now. 🙂

Traxy Thornfield

A Swedish introvert in Robin Hood Country (Nottingham, UK) where she lives with a husband and two cats. She's an eager participant in tabletop and play-by-post roleplaying, woodworking, photography and European travel. Will get a novel out one of these days, if she doesn't get too distracted on the way.

13 thoughts on “Jane Eyre (2006)

  1. This version didn’t stand the test of time for me. When I first watched it back in 2006, I liked a lot about it (Ruth’s Jane in particular), but over time I’ve loved it less and less. My main problems with it are the flashback scenes (they are not a good representation of chapter 27 IMO and Jane would never behave that way), the script (the simplified language) and Toby’s Rochester, who is just not Rochester to me. He doesn’t look the part and he doesn’t behave like Edward. He’s way too mellow. And because of my insane adoration for book-Edward an adaptation can’t work for me without a good representation of him.

    1. This is not a cansel reply but I want to find out if you have another Jane Eyre movie after the fire with or son wells and Jane fonts newsday

      1. Autocorrect seems to have garbled your comment, so I’m afraid I don’t understand what you’re asking? Try again? 🙂

  2. I agree with you, robas. When I first saw it I really enjoyed it, in spite of my horror at seeing Rochester fondling Jane on her bed. I still think it’s a truly beautiful production, but my problems with Ruth’s Jane (sorry to be shallow, but too tall, too old, although her performance was very good), Toby’s Edward (as you say, too mellow, not near enough anguish) and the failure to include dialogue from the book have marred it for me. I’m sure this adapatation works for those who have never read the novel, but for those of us who know and love the book it’s impossible to overlook these flaws.

  3. I agree with both of you – that’s what I’ve found too. Need to re-watch it and pay proper attention to it and see what I make of it now. Last time was just a partial view,, and on in the background while I was doing other stuff. :/

    With size of Jane, I read the script to The Piano recently and thought Ada (from what I remember) is a small woman – perhaps that’s more the size Jane should be. After all, Charlotte Brontë was tiny, and so was Jane! No one seems to acknowledge that. Mia Wasikowska isn’t petite either.

  4. This BBC adaptation shown in Autumn 2006 is my favourite and it is brilliant! Ruth Wilson is wonderful as Jane Eyre, Ruth brings Jane to life through her facial expressions, one minute she can be sad and lonely, the next look beautiful and happy. Ruth plays Jane as I imagine her in the book and brings a freshness to Jane which no other actress has done before.

    Toby Stephens is fantastic as Edward Fairfax Rochester. Toby plays Rochester with the right amount of darkness, humour and tenderness as was just right for the character. Toby also looks right to play Rochester as well. I also love the chemistry between Ruth and Toby!I have read and watched Jane Eyre so many times I know it off by heart, I watch it when I am in pain, feeling sad or when I need a Rochester fix! It is my comfort DVD.

  5. Agree with you wholeheartedly, except for the look. He has the right build for Rochester, but out of any adaptations, the one that looks most like the book’s description, for me, is Timothy Dalton. But oh, Stephens as Rochester in other ways is so right. *happysigh*

  6. I recently watched 2006 with an open mind knowing so many people loved it and BBC always does a great job with these mini series. Meh… I wasn’t feeling it. While there were many positives, they just got a lot of important things wrong. Rochester was too likable and Jane too perky. She came across like a love struck teenager at times. I understand it was adapted to make the story more watchable for a large television audience so I gave them a pass. However, i cannot believe Jane made out with Rochester in her bedroom knowing at this time he was married. Total heresy or eyresy! 😉 I’ve heard all the excuses made by 2006 apologists and sorry, it’s unforgivable. I think I’ll be putting my 2006 dvd up for sale on ebay. :>

  7. As far as I’m concerned, the definitive film version of Jane Eyre is the one with George C. Scott. He was a superb Rochester. Most adaptations make the mistake of casting someone young and hot in the role, and that’s just not what he’s like. I adore Aidan Turner, but I wouldn’t want to see him in JE.

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