TV miniseries review: Jane Eyre (1983), directed by Julian Amyes
As an easy start of a day’s worth of unpacking boxes and cleaning up the house before stuff can be put away (seriously, when was the last time they cleaned stuff before they moved?!), I decided to put on the version of Jane Eyre that I hadn’t really seen. Well, I did see it around Christmas last year, it’s just that I was on my laptop at the same time so didn’t really pay any attention to the TV and therefore had no opinion of this adaptation. Well, I do now!
The 1983 version is made up of 11 half-hour parts, starring Zelah Clarke and Timothy Dalton, and is probably the adaptation closest to the book. I’ve heard that before, and found it to be true. Everything is in here. More or less, anyway. You want Rochester as a gypsy? Check! Red room? Check! The shoe-tying scene which is one of my favourites from the book, for it is so AWESOME? Check! All the other bits you’d expect? Of course!
As it’s long they take their time with the story … which in fairness also makes it a bit on the slow side, and I wish they’d been better at the lighting, but I suppose they’ve become a bit more sophisticated with that sort of thing in the 26 years since it was made.
Episode one deals with Jane’s childhood at Gateshead, opening with the same line as the book, which is something along the lines of that the weather didn’t allow for a walk that day. It shows Jane reading, John Reed being horrible, and eventually Jane ending up in the dreaded Red Room, and eventually meeting the nice Dr Lloyd. There are frilly and very long undergarments here, just like in the 1934 version, just … they didn’t make a point of showing them off quite as much. Bessie seemed strange to me, because on the one hand, she’s a dear, and on the other, she’s quite nasty toward Jane … which is in the book. Still, a confused character.
When Mr Brockehurst tells of his son who would much rather learn a psalm than get a ginger nut – and thus gets two ginger nuts for his piety – the only thing that struck my mind was that the boy sure knows how to play his parents! Brocklehurst also asks if Jane is fond of the Bible, and she bluntly says “Bits of it”, that made me giggle. You go, girl! It of course also has the line where she says she must keep in good health and avoid dying to avoid going to hell, but I don’t know, it’s just the way it’s said in the ’34 version that makes it hilarious. Still funny here, though.
Episode two is Jane’s time at Lowood Institution. Helen Burns is there, but doesn’t get quite enough screen time; the teachers are there and Miss Temple, who adds a splash of colour to an otherwise grey setting. Her dress is green to begin with, and later on, she has a blue one. Very fancy. She’s of course the sweetest person you could ever hope for. It doesn’t show Helen dying, just that Jane asks the doctor where Helen is, the doctor says she’s very poorly and won’t last long at all, and then it’s cut to her headstone.
Little Jane is quite feisty, and does the role justice, I felt. She clams up a bit at Lowood, but every now and then, her “passionate nature” shines through. All in all, it’s a good story well told, but we really want to get a move on, because we want her to meet Rochester get to Thornfield. Which she does, in episode three.
They didn’t set Thornfield at Haddon Hall, but a place that is a little bit reminiscent of it. Personally, I prefer Haddon Hall. It looks secluded and turreted and romantic and very much like Thornfield should look. I have heard somewhere that Charlotte Brontë used Haddon Hall as inspiration for Thornfield, so it’s just logical to connect the two.
We meet Adèle (Blance Youinou), Leah (Eve Matheson) and Mrs Fairfax (Jean Harvey), and in Hay Lane, Pilot and Mr Rochester. Some say Timothy Dalton is too “pretty” to be a good Rochester. Bah, humbug! I say! He’ll do just fine, thank you very much. The thing is, of course, even if Rochester looked like Timothy Dalton and not Toby Stephens, he’s totally snog-worthy. It’s all in the character! I’ll get back to the main couple in a bit.
Moving on, there’s a fire (episode four), they have people coming to stay who play charades, and there’s the shoe-tying scene, and the gypsy woman. All in episode five. We’re introduced to Mr Mason of Jamaica who has seriously tight breeches. Seriously, watch them and be amazed! He also has an open shirt scene in episode six, when he’s had his run-in with his mad sister (a delightfully hairy chest – almost a bit disappointed we don’t get a similar undressing from Rochester).
Episode six also has Jane getting the message that her cousin killed himself and Mrs Reed has had a stroke, so she needs to return to Gateshead. This leads on to the flirtatious tenner scene (the one where he gives her £10 and says she can come back for the rest – it’s in the ’06 version as well), the awkward “how do you say goodbye” scene, and Gateshead Revisited.
In episode seven, we get the proposal (complete with mad wife tearing the veil – just surprised they didn’t go for the “sit up and talk all night” which Rochester said about in the book) and wedding, up until the point where the solicitor interrupts, saying there’s an impediment. The first part of that scene is shown again in the beginning of episode eight, where we get to meet the mad wife in question. Jane leaves Thornfield, her 20 shilling will get her as far as Whitcross (30 to Glossop), in the middle of nowhere, and she forgets her package on the coach.
Episode nine deals with Morton, and yes, it does show her going around trying to get food and work, and first being turned away by Hannah, and when near collapsing, St John Rivers takes her in. All very much according to the book. In this episode and the next, we meet Miss Oliver, St John takes a corner of one of Jane’s paintings which has her real name on it, Rochester puts out a search for Jane, Jane inherits £20k and finds out the kind people who took her in are in fact her cousins. Gasp, what a coincidence!
St John thinks it’s a reasonably good idea to marry Jane, who doesn’t want a loveless marriage to her cousin. She hears Rochester cry out “Jane!” and decides to go back to Thornfield, which is now a ruin. In the eleventh and final episode, Jane finds out what has happened, goes to Ferndean and meets the crippled Rochester – he even has a contact lens with a steak of white on to show his “good” eye has a problem. She still loves him, and now that he’s a widower it’s wedding bells for the happy couple. The series ends on them both sitting in a garden, near a stream, together.
Very true to the book – occasionally tediously so – and it’s not bad at all. I wasn’t expecting miracles, as old TV shows can seem desperately dated sometimes, but I must say I rather enjoyed it.
Zelah Clarke was a small and plain Jane (she had a pimple on her cheek which came and went), but looked decidedly unlike she was 18-19. Is it just because Clarke is small or does Dalton actually have a freakin’ HUGE head? Seriously! They did well together, and while I think there’s more zest to Ruth Wilson’s Jane, I enjoyed Clarke’s performance.
Dalton, huge head aside, did a Rochester I think he can be proud of. He was nuanced, going from broody and angry to happily loving and even flirty. Not enough to knock Toby Stephens off the spot, but an excellent second.
It exceeds expectations for sure. So yeah, I’m a bit surprised, but this does actually come in as a close second to the 2006 version for me. 🙂
4.5 out of 5 studios.