Jane Eyre on film and television

Jane Eyre has proved popular with makers of both feature films and television adaptations. It offers some strong characters, changes of scene, hints of the supernatural, opportunities for dramatising suffering and pathos and has at its centre an intense, brooding love story. BBC Television seems to screen a new version about once every 10-15 years! All the versions listed here are currently available on DVD.

Adaptations 1944-2006

Jane Eyre Directed by Robert Stevenson. 1944 This version lays emphasis on the novel's Gothic elements; Rochester is played by one of the greatest of film actors, Orson Welles; very good at catching the mood of the novel
Jane Eyre Directed by Delbert Mann. 1970 Quite faithful to the novel, but a very polite version; George C. Scott, an American, seems out of place as Rochester
Jane Eyre BBC Television. 1973 Sorcha Cusack and Michael Jayston play the leads: quite solid and moving
Jane Eyre BBC Television. 1983 Made a star of Timothy Dalton as Rochester, but generally rather dull
Jane Eyre Directed by Franco Zeffirelli. 1995 A faithful adaptation that takes few chances. However, there's an extremely strong central performance from Charlotte Gainsbourg as Jane and while William Hurt is rather subdued as Rochester, there is excellent support from a strong cast of English actors
Jane Eyre 1997 Reduces the novel to the length of a feature film, so inevitably much is left out; the leads are played by Samantha Morton and Ciaran Hinds
Jane Eyre BBC Television. 2006 Ruth Wilson and Toby Stephens: attracted a lot of favourable attention when it was first screened

Working with adaptations

The obvious question to ask about any adaptation is:

  • How faithful is this version to the original?
    • Although it is interesting and sometimes amusing to identify what is omitted or changed, there are other, more challenging, questions to be asked. Some, for instance, concern the history and structure of the film and television industries:
  • Why was this version of the novel made at this time? In what ways might it be speaking to contemporary concerns?
  • Who were its likely viewers?
  • What were the motives of the studio or television company and the director?
  • What significance is there in the casting of the various roles?

Perhaps the most important questions relate to the way in which the story is interpreted, and here the answers to that original question about fidelity to the original can be reformulated as new questions:

  • Why might the director have omitted some parts of the plot (including some characters)?
  • Are there any ‘new' characters or incidents? Why are they in this version?
  • How is the story interpreted? Where does the emphasis lie?
  • How are the characters presented? Are they shown as more, or less, sympathetic than in the novel?
    • Why?
  • What might the director's interpretation tell us about contemporary attitudes towards the issues raised by the novel?
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