Those eagerly grabbing up classics just to lure audiences with the promise of modernized and revisionist plot twists, take heart. A classic is a classic for a reason, and no fancy trickery is needed to retell a well-loved story to an audience that probably already knows it by heart. Cary Fukunaga mounts the 15th – at least! – film adaptation of Charlotte Bronte’s 1847 gothic novel “Jane Eyre”, yet manages to make it just as riveting and fresh as if it isn’t a story you’ve been forced to read in school at least two or three times; and he does it without resorting to turning Jane into a modern rom-com version of herself or adding vampires and zombies.
A simple twist in structure involving flashbacks and flash-forwards makes the well-trodden path seem new and exciting all over again. The story begins with Jane (Mia Wasikowska), the poor and orphaned but highly intelligent governess, fleeing across the atmospheric English moors, heartbroken and crying. Though we are pretty sure of when this occurs in the linear timeline of the plot, the film first inter-cuts this sequence with an abundant and welcome amount of time flashing back to Jane as a young girl, establishing the abuse and neglect she received from the only family she knows and then at the strict boarding school she is sent away to. Her upbringing is harsh, rigid, and repressive, and when Wasikowska finally appears to leave the school for Thornfield, to look after the young French charge of Michael Fassbender’s stormy Edward Rochester, she deftly gives Jane at least two distinct layers. On the surface, she is obedient, submissive and a strict teacher, but she also can’t hide her natural nurturing and affection towards her young charge Adele, and one look at her eyes shows the caged spirit that longs for freedom and more than her mundane existence.