A while back we received an unusual request at Dear Author. We were asked to review something other than a book -’ a DVD set called "The Romance Collection: Special Edition." The 14 DVD set, which can be found here, usually retails for $99.95 but is currently on sale for $59.97, and contains nearly 30 hours of programming (not including the special features) from A&E’s romantic films and miniseries.
The eight titles included in "The Romance Collection: Special Edition" are as follows: "Pride and Prejudice" starring Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle, "Victoria and Albert," starring Nigel Hawthorne, Jonathan Pryce and Sir Peter Ustinov, "Emma," starring Kate Beckinsale, "Jane Eyre," starring Samantha Morton and Ciaran Hinds, "Lorna Doone," starring Martin Clunes, Richard Coyle, Aidan Gillen and Amelia Warner, "The Scarlet Pimpernel," starring Richard E. Grant and Elizabeth McGovern, "Tom Jones," starring Max Beesley, Samantha Morton and Benjamin Whitrow, and "Ivanhoe," starring Steven Waddington and Ciaran Hinds.
This review is, obviously, for Jane Eyre starring Samantha Morton and Ciaran Hinds. It’s an A&E Home Video Production originally shown in 1997 and released on DVD in 1999.
Directors: Robert Young (III)
Format: Closed-captioned, Color, DVD-Video, NTSC
Region: All Regions
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Number of discs: 1
Studio: A&E Home Video
DVD Release Date: October 26, 1999
Run Time: 108 minutes
I will also cop to Janine’s claim of being a Philistine and admit that if I’ve ever managed to make it all the way through this book, I’ve forgotten when it was. I do know the outline of the story and was able to follow the storyline with no problems. And that is where some may have problems with this film version of the book. With its short runtime (108 minutes) there’s a lot that was, of necessity, cut from the book. Jane’s early years at her aunt’s home and at Lowood School are zipped through by the 12 minute mark. Her early months at Thornfield over within 3-4 more minutes. Her trip to her dying aunt’s home is never actually shown and her stay with the Rivers is over almost as soon as it’s begun.
The bulk of the film dwells on Jane’s growing relationship with Mr. Rochester, watching him flirt with Blanche Ingram, seeing Jane teaching Adele, wondering who Grace Poole is and if she’ll burn the house down around their ears. While the book most definitely should be called “Jane Eyre” as it showcases her throughout her life, this film version should almost be called “Jane and Mr. Rochester” since he shares so much screen time with her.
A quick check of other reviews and review sites shows a broad range of opinions for this version. Some people loved it while others loathed it. Morton and Hinds are praised, individually and together, almost as much as each is panned. I’ve seen both of them in other productions and know them to be excellent actors. Here I was torn.
I like Morton as Jane. She has a mercurial ability to be both plain and beautiful. Unlike Blanche Ingram, Jane is not supposed to be a “knock’em dead” beauty. Hers is the beauty that shines from within and glows under the care of a man who loves her. Morton captures this nicely. But I did wonder at her outspokenness to Mr. Rochester and the fact that, due to the telescoped nature of the production, she almost comes off in almost Mary Sue fashion. She’s quickly the beloved teacher at Lowood, the adored governess of Adele, the overwhelming love object of Mr. Rochester and the perfect missionary’s wife candidate for St. John Rivers.
As Mr. Rochester, Ciaran Hinds seems to have two speeds: smoldering jealousy and shouting. In a few scenes, notably when he tells Jane of Adele’s mother and later welcomes her back to Thornfield from her visit to her aunt’s, he shows his usual range of nuanced feeling. But most times he looks like he’s about to erupt in a shouting session or is already in one. Physically, he’s a great Rochester, all dark and brooding. Not classically handsome but a face that captures one’s attention and speaks of strength. Their declarations of love and first kiss are palpable while Jane’s heartache at needing to leave Thornfield after their aborted wedding is wrenching.
As for the other actors, Gemma Jones is her usual outstanding self as Mrs. Fairfax while Abigail Cruttenden is a fine Blanche. Most of the other adults are adequate in their roles but unfortunately few of them have enough screen time for me to really comment. I did find that the children tended to overact their parts and I was quite happy for them to leave the sceen.
The costumes, locations, hair styling and music were fine. The lighting made the scenes fairly dark and the colors look muddy. I’m not sure if this was an intentional attempt to capture the gothic feel of the book or just badly done. The DVD has closed captioning which I like though the captions lagged behind and often didn’t match what was actually occurring on screen. I especially liked the scoring of the film. The music highlights the emotions shown onscreen but never overwhelms them in an ocean of stringed instruments. The exterior and interior shots of Thornfield convey the dark emotions of the house while the final lighting of Jane and Edward shows the happiness they’ve found in each other.
I would have liked for this production to be a little longer. Even a full two hours would have allowed for a more complete exploration of the book. It does hit the highlights of the story and includes the crucial scenes needed to show how the characters end up together. Additional features include cast filmographies and a short biography of Charlotte Bronte.
Anyone interested in buying it should probably rent it first to see if this is a version that will please them. If you like banked emotions waiting to roar into flames, dark glances and brooding scenery this could be the one for you. On the other hand, some will see it as too darkly shot, filled with blustering and missing favorite scenes from the book. I like it well enough to give it a B- and this is from a woman who doesn’t particularly like gothic, Victorian era settings.