Jane Eyre (dir. Robert Young, 1997)
Robert Young's made-for-TV adaptation of Jane Eyre surprised me. Out of all the adaptations it was the one that held the least promise. Despite having the talents of Ciaran Hinds and Samantha Morton I felt as though Hinds was terribly miscast. The promotional materials for the film were staggeringly mediocre and ill-advised. The clips I had seen were poorly edited and the cinematography and direction of the film seemed dead behind the eyes. Yet the film is the best of all I've watched thus far in regards to the relationship between Jane (Samantha Morton) and Edward Rochester (Ciaran Hinds).
All of the film adaptations I've seen thus far try very hard to strike a balance between the bodice-ripping passion and guarded emotions that together constitute the novel's central romance. Most end up feeling rushed or forced, and many have had zero chemistry between the two leads. This version is electric with the chemistry between Hinds and Morton. The direction is uninspired but it is smart in capitalizing upon the chemistry and tension between the two leads. The film seems to let the fantastic acting do all the work for it, and that works out fine for the power of the love story.
Since the love story is so finely executed in this version, most of the other moments fall flat. Jane's youth is poorly constructed and feels more rushed than in any other adaptation. The friendship between Jane and Helen Burns--something very central to Jane's development into adulthood--is pathetically portrayed. Finally, once Jane leaves Thornfield for Moor House the film grinds to a complete halt. The courtship of Jane by St. John is well-handled and necessary for Jane's reconciliation with Rochester, but as a viewer the juxtaposition between the power of Jane and Rochester's scenes and courtship against their separation is staggeringly off-putting.
Even with its detractions the film is still a good adaptation. It's not as good as the Zeffirelli version from the year before but could stand alongside it. The relationship in the Zeffirelli version does not have nearly the same power and electricity as this one has, and the comparison cuts large holes in the Zeffirelli film. As a whole this film needs a lot of work, but it's worth a watch for the power of its two leads.